Plans are proceeding for the state of Missouri to take over operations of the Independence Police Department crime lab.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol would operate the facility as a satellite lab at IPD headquarters. At some point in the future, officials say they’d like to see that upgraded to a regional lab and possibly moved to a larger space at the site of the old Independence Regional Health Center.

“And our goal is to try to continue that dialogue this next year,” City Manager Robert Heacock told the City Council at a recent budget session.

“This is a pretty big first step for the Highway Patrol” to take over, said state Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, who secured funding for the change. The funding is in a budget bill expected to be signed by Gov. Jay Nixon.

“The Independence Police Department has served as a regional crime lab for all the municipalities,” LeVota said.

This would be the ninth crime lab run by the Highway Patrol, the nearest being in St. Joseph. The move would affect more than 20 counties.

The IPD lab over the years has been highly praised but needs expensive equipment upgrades and faces a severe financial crunch, officials say. The Highway Patrol would be able to make those purchases.

The amount of work crime labs do – verifying drug samples, processing rape kits, among other things – has piled up, creating significant backlogs. This change “is definitely an improvement, a step in the right direction,” Heacock said.