Columbia Drug Lab Could Merge With Richland County

Columbia, SC (WLTX) - There are still a lot of unanswered questions since the closing of the Columbia Police Department's Drug Lab.

Friday, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin requested for the public safety committee to meet and gather more information.

"There is a high level of concern and we want to make sure that cases are not jeopardized," said Councilman Brian Dequincey Newman.

An internal audit showed that there were gaps in the training and experience of drug lab tech Brenda Frazier.

After Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook ordered for the lab to be closed, Frazier resigned; now 188 of her cases will be reviewed by the State Law Enforcement Division.

"As a former prosecutor and chair of the public safety committee I understand the value of having the best evidence to put forward in a case to make sure you can justify arresting someone."

Councilman Newman is the committee chair and says they are going to revisit the policy when it comes to the city drug lab.

"We want to make sure that we put something in place to ensure that we have regular checks and that there is no possibility that we will have evidence in jeopardy in the future."

Newman says city leaders are considering letting the Richland County Sheriff's Department run the city cases in the interim.

The county lab is one of two internationally accredited labs in the state.

"The accreditation while its not a panacea is a very important way that we can establish and function under the umbrella of quality assurance," said Demi Garvin with the Richland County Sheriff's Department.

Garvin says the lab has five departments and 32 employees and an annual budget of $500,000 not including salaries.

The sheriff does not want his staff to comment on the current situation with the Columbia Police Department, but Garvin was able to tell us that their lab can handle an extra work load.

"We have for the past 14 years and continue to be engaged in testing for other agencies both in South Carolina and outside the state on an as needed basis."

There's been talk about the city letting the county run its cases on a permanent basis and that's something that Newman thinks is a good idea.

"It could be a good idea, but we need our staff to fully vet that and make sure that we have a mutual interest on both sides," said Newman.

Newman says the committee meeting will be at 11AM on Wednesday at City Hall.


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