With the high number of crimes around the state of Mississippi, the staff at the Mississippi State Crime Laboratory find themselves completely overwhelmed when it comes to processing and analyzing evidence.
In an exclusive interview with Crime Lab Director Sam Howell, WJTV 12’s Lanaya Lewis investigates why the lab is so short-staffed and how they’re working around their lack of staff.
Howell says the lab only has two full-time physicians, and when you add over 400 drug cases a month, it can take a while to get evidence processed.
“We have about 1,400 autopsies a year that are split up between these two doctors,” Howell says. “We have over a homicide a day… and then they’ve got their court they have to go to.”
Howell also says in June, he lost five qualified forensic experts, which has created a backlog of cases in both the forensic and autopsy divisions.
“Really the delay right now is just the time to sit down and finish the final report,” Howell says. “If you’re in court three of the five days a week and trying to do the autopsies that are here… they just don’t have time and that’s what it’s boiled down to.”
Howell says the hardest part of the job is the number of people that call wondering what happened to their loved ones. And while he can usually give a preliminary autopsy when people call, his hands are tied when it comes to giving them a full report and closure.
“I get those phone calls and it bothers me. Sometimes we don’t have the answers or don’t have the answers as fast as we should have or could have… but we try to help them as best we can,” Howell says.
The solution? More funding. Howell says that if they received more money to pay people wanting to work at the lab, they wouldn’t have to worry about losing their best analysts and physicians to surrounding states.
“Our entry-level people are coming in at 15-to-20 thousand dollars less than the surrounding state,” Howell says. “So we’re a great training ground. As soon as we train them they’re gone.”