It will cost about half-a-million dollars a year or $2.5 million over the next five years.In truth, though, the "free option" isn't really free at all. True, DPS doesn't charge for crime lab services, but they have a very large backlog which can take many months to process a case. In cases where the defendant sits in jail until the results come back, which we might conservatively estimate at $50 per day, assuming they have no medical or mental health problems, pharmacy needs, etc. that boosts the cost significantly more than paying for IFL's crime lab services. Savings in county jail costs alone will likely exceed the cost. Local taxpayers are better off with this arrangement all the way around.
City Rep. Dr. Michiel Noe voted against it because of that high cost, stating there was still a free option, which was having the Texas Department of Public Safety handle all of the testing
Noe also objected to the City paying for the entire cost and not involving the County, which he said also benefits from crime lab services.
District Attorney Jaime Esparza said sending testing to DPS takes longer and the majority of his drug cases come from within the city, while the county shares other costs.
Recently a regional fee for service crime lab run by Sam Houston State in Montgomery County had to close because they unexpectedly lost their lease. The Conroe Courier described the effects of switching from the SHSU lab to the "free" DPS one:
With the loss of the SHSU crime lab – which serves more than 70 agencies – Montgomery County now will have to send tests to a Texas Department of Public Safety Regional Crime Lab in Austin, which serves many more clients, [Assistant District Attorney Warren] Diepraam said.“With the Regional Crime Lab, we got results in a week or two,” he said. “Unfortunately, the DPS lab has a backlog of cases. For drug toxicology tests, it could take six to nine months to get results. That’s a concern to the district attorney that we’ll have people staying in jail while we’re waiting on results.”And of course, costs for testing at DPS aren't actually "free," they're just kicked down the road to state taxpayers who must pick up the tab. For my part, I think DPS should switch to a fee for service model as well for everybody but its own officers. I live in Austin where taxpayers already finance a crime lab. Why should taxpayers here also pay for El Paso's testing, or the myriad other agencies that use DPS because they're too cheap to pay for their own?
Plus, when agencies think of the service as "free," the services are over-utilized. That's particularly true in DNA cases, where the backlog is worst. Agencies don't treat requests for testing with the same sort of cost-benefit analysis as do agencies which must operate within their own budgets.
At the end of the day, DPS' "free for everybody" model creates false incentives and is IMO unsustainable as demand for crime lab services is growing much faster than the actual crime rate. Switching to a fee for service model would rationalize the process from a budget perspective and stop taxpayers in jurisdictions with their own crime labs from subsidizing the rest of the state. It's probably something the Legislature should consider next session.