SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - The newest tool in the ArkLaTex's crime-fighting arsenal soon will be up and running.
North Louisiana Crime Lab System directors have confirmed that the state-of-the-art North Louisiana Forensic Sciences Center will start seeing occupants by June 1.
The $26 million, 86,000-square-foot facility at Linwood at Tulane avenues in Shreveport has been complete for some time now.
But North Louisiana Criminalistics Laboratory director Jimmy Barnhill said a lack of funding has kept the doors closed.
They didn't have enough money originally for the operating costs because all of that funding came from traffic tickets, court costs and fees, he said.
Construction of the center began Oct. 1, 2013.
But Barnhill said they've been trying to get it up and running since 2005.
"Once we got the funding to start the construction in 2013, there was plenty of money to do what we needed to do."
After enough votes in the Louisiana Legislature in 2015, Barnhill said, they now receive $1 million more each year in their operating budget.
The plan is for the transition to the new facility to be completed by this fall.
The center will bring the storage of crime evidence, the dispensing of testimony from analysts and the teaching of local criminal studies students under one roof and make law enforcement even more streamlined, Barnhill said.
The facility features moving evidence shelves, saving space by not requiring aisles between each shelf.
"File storage has always been a problem for us," said Barnhill. "Even though we're trying to go to digital, you still have to have paper because we have to be able to take it to court."
Another hold-up for the move-in date was that the evidence collected at the facility would have been compromised without proper fire suppression, he added.
"If water came in here and start sprinkling, it would get all the evidence wet and all the files wet and that wouldn't be a good thing.
"We had to go back to the drawing board. We use a chemical called halon, which just suppresses fires by extinguishing all of the oxygen in the room."
The center has four floors with sections dedicated to different facets of investigation inside a criminal lab: DNA, autopsy, firearms, etc.
Through the facility, Barnhill said, a great weight will be lifted off lab analysts by allowing them to remotely broadcast their testimony as opposed to traveling to a courtroom.
"One of our analysts had to go to Vidalia to testify in a marijuana case," he recounted. "It takes, what, half a day to get there and half a day to get back?"
The center also has a 100-body cold storage room.
And the same teleconferencing ability will allow grieving families to identify bodies through a television screen, Barnhill said.
"Family members can then identify a body without actually having to go in there where it's all bloody and smelly. Not a very pleasant thing for people who are grieving the loss of a loved one."
On the firearms floor, analysts have a firing range with bullet traps at the end of a long hallway to help them more accurately analyze shootings.
"Distance determinations," Barnhill explained. "Whether or not it's a contact shot or one from across the room. Sometimes it's a question about whether it's an entrance or an exit wound, especially when bullets go all the way through the body and you can never retrieve the bullet."
The center also will give Shreveport law enforcement agencies a historic first, its own facility to perform autopsies, four at a time.
"It's all done under one roof. I mean, they do the autopsy. If there's any clothing to be collected and taken to the crime lab, well, they're at the crime lab!"
The center eventually will become a crime laboratory hub for 29 parishes.
Barnhill he hopes to have a grand opening ceremony for the center in the fall.