There is a movement in our country right now to “defund the police,” which has led to politicians reducing the budgets of police departments all across the country. This is a troubling trend that will likely have disastrous effects on public safety. As we engage in this national debate, it is critical that we remember the important work and activities that will be lost when politicians decide to wholesale defund police departments.
One of many essential services performed by the police is the processing of forensic evidence. When I was elected in 2016 to the House of Delegates, the West Virginia State Police Forensic Crime Laboratory was facing a crisis. It had been inconsistently and inadequately funded for years, and as a result it had built up a backlog of nearly 5,000 cases due to unprocessed rape kits, toxicology tests, and even homicide evidence.
Along with my colleagues in the legislature, we introduced a bill to address the crisis, HB 2980, which created the State Police Forensic Laboratory Fund and for the first-time provided consistent resources to process the backlog of forensic evidence for the State Police. The fund created a new special revenue account that is managed by the Superintendent of State Police. Expenditures made from the fund must be for the operations of the lab.
The second bill we introduced to address the short fall of resources, HB 4347, allowed any individual applying for the issuance or renewal of a driver’s license to voluntarily contribute to the State Police Forensic Laboratory Forensic Fund. Voluntary DMV donations have been hugely successful in other states, like Texas.
Since the passage of these bills, the backlog of nearly 5,000 has been reduced by thousands. The additional funding has also allowed the laboratory to decrease the average time for processing from nine months to just ninety days. As the fund collects more money, these wait times have continued to decrease.
Anecdotally, after a debate during my reelection campaign in 2018, a constituent approached me to discuss the newly created State Police Forensic Laboratory Fund. She shared that a family member had been a victim of a violent crime years ago and that the case had remained unsolved for a long time. She stopped me in the back of the hall that night and told me her family had recently received word that the perpetrator had been found through previously unprocessed DNA evidence.
Funding our police brought that family justice in a previously unsolved crime. It’s stories like these that are absent in the headlines about defunding the police, but are powerful and important, and should be part of the current debate.
Providing our law enforcement the adequate funding and resources has bolstered our justice system by enabling swift resolution for the victims of violent crime in our state and providing some level of deterrence by ensuring these crimes do not go unpunished. In this case, the lack of funding for law enforcement created a situation where citizens paid the price in the form of delayed justice or worse yet — no justice at all.
This is why I fully support continuing to fund our law enforcement agencies in West Virginia to carry out the job we, the citizens, have asked them to do. The efforts in the Legislature to provide more resources for our State Police have had unquestionable positive results for the citizens of this state, which is something I think we can all stand by.
Moore, of Harpers Ferry, is a former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates and a Republican candidate for state treasurer.