A few years ago, Independence officials believed they could work out a plan with the state in which the Missouri State Highway Patrol would run a satellite and eventually regional crime lab in the city.
Independence had closed its own police crime lab in early 2015, as accreditation costs had become too big of a budget burden and staffing had become a problem due to the uncertain future. Ultimately, Governor Jay Nixon and the Highway Patrol decided to put funds toward other Highway Patrol crime labs around the state and have a kiosk for evidence at the Highway Patrol's Lee's Summit troop building.
Lately, in discussing plans for a possible new justice center in Independence – a building next to the Utilities Center at 23rd Street and R.D. Mize Road for police headquarters, Municipal Court and the city jail – city officials have again floated the idea of a regional crime lab.
At the very least, they've put the bug in Governor Mike Parson's ear.
“We've spoken with Governor Parson's staff and just sort of offered it,” Mayor Eileen Weir said. “If the state will staff it with Highway Patrol, we could build it.”
“We believe there's a need for (lab) services closer to home.”
“That would be a critical centerpiece of whole project,” City Manager Zach Walker said. “It's on our legislative agenda for the state. If the state didn't pass that, we still would pursue (the justice center), but this would enhance that.”
“We would ask for them to cover operating expenses,” he said, which he estimated to be about $2 million annually.
Of course, the possibility of a local crime lab is first contingent on a new justice center being built, and the city has contracted with JE Dunn Construction to find – among other things – a realistic financing plan for a facility estimated at $34 million to $35 million. The Police Department says it would need to hire 33 new officers and support staff for ideal operations, but even if the city said it had enough budget room for that, the current police building wouldn't have the space for them. The firm Hoefer Wysocki last year outlined its findings that necessary remodeling and addition to the current facility would cost slightly more than a new justice center and would leave no room for future expansion.
JE Dunn said it plans to provide an estimated square-foot cost for cost for a possible crime lab.
A community improvement district tax has appeared to be the best financing avenue for a new justice center, but any big decision on the city's part is still a few months away, at least.
“We're not ready to take that step either,” Weir said.
A state decision on a crime lab would not affect whether or not a new justice center happens, though.
“(The state) showed a few years ago they're not ready to jump in with that approach,” Weir said. “We're going to leave that door open.
“We're trying to keep that conversation, that option available.”