POOLER, Ga. (WSAV) – A new chapter in forensic crime-fighting is underway in Chatham County as the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) cuts the ribbon on its new crime lab for the Coastal Region.
Governor Brian Kemp wielded the giant scissors to signify the opening of the new building off Pooler Parkway in Pooler. Kemp says the $50 million dollar campus features state-of-the-art design and technology, it makes it easier for the crime scene investigators work.
“This is tough work no doubt, but it’s necessary work. Investigating complex cases, like the pastor, the chaplain said, to seek the truth and to hold bad actors accountable and to secure justice for our victims. I think sometimes, we forget that part,” said Kemp.
GBI’s lab for the Coastal Region is moving from cramped quarters on Savannah’s Southside into a three-story, 54,000 square foot facility in Pooler. GBI Director, Vic Reynolds says lab space is more than doubling for extraction, ballistics testing, and other labs essential to the work.
Ross W. Butler, Jr. is the manager for the new lab and he says toxicology is getting an upgrade. “We’re gonna be adding an additional toxicology discipline to our, our staff here so we’ll be able to do blood/alcohol analysis and toxicology services, looking for drugs and poisons in biological samples,” Ross said.
There’s also more room for a vital function in each of GBI’s seven crime labs.
“We have a large medical examiners staff here that’s going to be operating. You know, any time there’s a suspicious death anywhere in the state we have an obligation to perform the autopsy. Some counties have their own, but out of the 159 counties in the state, ah, we provide services for 153 of them, so we do a tremendous amount of work,” Reynolds said. “South Georgia has a tremendous amount of work in that regard.”
Local law enforcement look forward to the forensic work that will be performed here, but Chatham County Sheriff, John Wilcher says he hopes the new lab can help clear their backlog.
“The biggest thing they gonna have to do is catch up on the backlog they got and I think they’ll do it with hiring some more personnel and stuff and I think it’ll be great for the community,” said Wilcher.
News 3 asked Reynolds directly if the new lab can help take a bite out of the backlog: “Absolutely!” he said.
“We have the ability to grow. We’re not crowded here. We’re not on top of each other here,” he added. “We have the ability to store. Our storage vault store has doubled the capacity has doubled in this building…Hopefully, all those things together, along with us doing a deep dive into the lab will help with that efficiency and will help with that backlog.”
Pooler Mayor Mike Lamb says moving the lab to his city makes geographical sense as it serves law enforcement in 23 counties in coastal Georgia.
“It’s just a great location. You think about 95, you know, 16, Highway 80, Pooler Parkway, all of these roads that can get you to all of these other jurisdictions that need to use this facility, they can get here and get back to their city quickly,” Lamb said.
Prosecutors, like Bobby Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, look forward to evidence processed in the new lab, backing up their cases in court.
“Jurors expect to see more ‘whiz-bang’ evidence as modern culture makes it more and more familiar to them, but also it helps us give the certitude every American would expect when proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Christine said. “In the federal system we rely heavily on federal laboratories and they provide great service, but the explosion in crime we saw over the past decade has really required us to partner more closely with state and local folks.
“So having this sort of facility at the state level here in the local community within the southern district is a game-changer.”