‘The very best tools:’ Governor, officials cut tape on new Southern Utah crime lab in Cedar City

CEDAR CITY — State and local officials on Monday unveiled a new state crime laboratory that will serve Southern Utah.

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at the unveiling of the new Southern Utah Crime Lab facility at the Department of Public Safety Building in Cedar City, Utah, April 26, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

The new facility, located in the basement of the Utah Department of Public Safety building at 181 D.L. Sargent Drive in Cedar City, will help cut down the turnaround time for evidence processing, particularly for law enforcement agencies in the southern part of the state, officials said.

“Justice delayed is not justice served. And that’s true, by the way, whether you’re guilty, but it’s especially true if you’re innocent,” Gov. Spencer Cox said during his remarks, shortly before he ceremoniously cut the ribbon that was, fittingly, a length of yellow crime scene tape.

Cox said the state-of-the-art lab, along with the creation of 10 new forensic scientist positions to staff the facility, underscores the state’s commitment to public safety and law enforcement.

When other states and other people are talking about defunding the police, we’re doing the exact opposite,” he said. “We’re putting more and more funding into law enforcement to make sure that our law enforcement officials have the very best training, the very best tools and the very best resources at their discretion so that they can make sure that justice is administered the right way.”

“Today’s a great day,” said Utah Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson, who noted the new facility will help alleviate the amount of case backlog at the state’s primary crime lab in Taylorsville.

Anderson also spoke of the jobs and training opportunities the lab will foster.

New Southern Utah Crime Lab facility at the Department of Public Safety Building in Cedar City, Utah, April 26, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“We’re grateful for the opportunity to partner with SUU as well as Dixie State University,” he said, noting that the lab will provide valuable training opportunities for biology, chemistry and criminal justice students, in addition to future employment prospects.

Cedar City Police Chief Darin Adams also talked briefly, expressing his gratitude for the various opportunities his department has to collaborate with other agencies throughout the state. 

“I’m so grateful for the partnerships that we have forged with the state and the great work that they have done,” he said. “The best success comes from great partnerships, and we certainly do have that.”

Iron County Attorney Chad Dotston also said he was excited by the additional capabilities for law enforcement and public safety.

“The opening of the Southern Utah crime lab is going to be a tremendous benefit and asset for the entire southern Utah community,” Dotson said. “Specifically for victims of crime.

“With the addition of this new lab, the time it takes to get results on DNA, fingerprints, other controlled substances, drugs or blood evidence will be significantly reduced, and that’s a great thing,” Dotson added. “We will have additional experts who can consult with investigators and prosecutors on complex cases and crime scenes. And these experts will be more easily accessible to give testimony in court and to educate and train local law enforcement prosecutors. Overall, this will be a tremendous resource and our efforts to seek truth and justice in the county attorney’s office.”

The Southern Utah Crime Lab will be under the direction of Ryan Barney. 

“Director Barney has been a terrific community partner thus far,” Dotson said. “We are excited to continue to work with him, as this new lab will have additional capabilities and resources than we’ve ever had.”

Barney, who also works as a biology professor at SUU, told Cedar City News during the open house tour that the new facility will have DNA testing capabilities.

“That will allow us to work on like sexual assault kits and different crimes that require DNA analysis, and actually have a lot better turnaround time compared to sending them up to Salt Lake to be tested, and then back down here,” Barney said. “So, it will speed up turnaround time on crime, especially major crimes like murders and rapes.”

The first handful of job openings for forensic scientists have already been posted, Barney said.

DPS Commissioner Jess Anderson speaks at the unveiling of the new Southern Utah Crime Lab facility at the Department of Public Safety Building in Cedar City, Utah, April 26, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“We’re starting out with five to six openings in the beginning. We’ll try to fill those spots and get everybody trained. And then over the next year or two, we’ll be pushing it out to 10 (jobs), which will allow us to really work through cases quickly. And we’ll probably actually end up helping Salt Lake out, processing the Southern Utah lab cases first and getting those through and then helping with the backlog up north as well.”

Eventually, if funding and caseloads allow, the lab’s staff could eventually reach as high as 20 people, officials said during the open house tour.

During his remarks, state Sen. Evan Vickers noted that the Southern Utah Crime Lab has been in the works for several years, and thanked all who have diligently worked to make the project happen.

“I also commend those that had the foresight when this building was constructed, to have the space to put it in,” Vickers said. 

Cedar City’s new Department of Public Safety building, which also houses the Driver License Division, State Department of Corrections and Utah Highway Patrol offices, was dedicated in 2017.

State Sen. Don L. Ipson said the new crime lab is expected to cut the turnaround time for evidence processing by as much as 20-30 days.

“I think it’s commendable that we’ll be able to do that when this is up and running and fully staffed,” he said. “The whole state will be served by this.”

Not only will the facility benefit local law enforcement, Ipson said, but it will also be a resource of support for the “too long, underserved” victims of crimes and their families.

Other officials attending the ceremony included Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, Cedar City Mayor Maile Wilson-Edwards and state Rep. Rex Shipp, plus several Utah Highway Patrol and local law enforcement officers.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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