The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has so far been able to keep up with a sharp increase in requests for blood tests in driving under the influence cases prompted by a policy change over the summer, Director John Camper told The Colorado Sun.
That’s despite fears the state wouldn’t be able to handle the workload and charges would be dropped as a result.
“Our folks are working very hard,” Camper said. “I think they take it almost as a point of personal pride that no one thinks they can do it.”
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Camper said that things are “going OK” and that wait times for the tests haven’t increased. The statewide investigative agency is completing tests in about 23 or 24 days, well below the 60-day threshold that prosecutors say they need to keep cases moving smoothly through the court system.
“I don’t know that we will be able to sustain that at that level,” Camper said. “We’re certainly going to try and keep it down as low as we possibly can.”
Problems arose over the summer when the CBI began offering free blood testing in DUI cases as a way to encourage cash-strapped law enforcement agencies to submit their samples when they otherwise might not because of the cost. But that move had the effect of shuttering ChemaTox, the private Boulder County lab that had been handling testing in thousands of cases in Colorado each year, shifting the burden to the CBI.
Prosecutors have warned that if the CBI can’t keep up, they might have to drop cases to meet speedy-trial requirements and that the pinch could be felt well beyond DUI cases. The free testing began on July 1.
CBI sent state budget writers a report on Sept. 26 showing that in July and August, its caseload nearly doubled over the previous two months to 1,512 submissions. Although it didn’t clock any overtime hours for toxicology testing in June and July, it logged nearly 160 hours in August.
Camper said right now the agency is staying within its budget and that he doesn’t intend to ask the legislature for additional funds to cover the increased caseload. He said his lab has open positions it needs to fill, which he hopes will keep turnaround times low.
“We may also be looking at transferring a vacancy from a different discipline over to (handle blood testing) just to make sure we keep on top of this,” he said.
The CBI says that if it does get in a bind, it could ask agencies to begin paying for tests again, and then use that money to hire more lab staff or contract work out.
ChemaTox, the private Boulder lab that was doing the bulk of blood testing for law enforcement agencies in Colorado, has closed.
The Colorado District Attorney’s Council says it is keeping close tabs on the situation.