After decades of leaning on the FBI for help in analyzing evidence collected at crime scenes, the District of Columbia finally has a crime lab of its own--a 210 million dollar project more than ten years in the making.
On Monday, Mayor Vincent Gray dedicated the building that will also house the office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Department of Health.
"The potential that this building gives to the District of Columbia to increase, improve and expand its ability to do forensic analysis to solve crimes is just enormous", said City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson in remarks at the building's dedication.
With over size scissors the mayor and other dignitaries cut a piece of crime scene tape to officially open the new lab.
A structure built in southwest on the site of the old First District Police Headquarters.
"Forensic sciences will specialize particularly in DNA testing, fingerprints and firearms and will have a fully functioning public health lab as well," said D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray.
Gone are the days when evidence collected from rape victims sat on shelves untested and DNA from cold cases went unanalyzed.
"It was a lot of work, a lot of advocacy but can I tell you why I am here? Asked former D.C. City Council Member Kathy Patterson, "I am really here for the moms of homicide victims; they labored so long and so hard to get this lab built and the victims of sexual assault who were victimized twice when the rape kits weren't tested."
As Chairman of the City Council's Judiciary Committee, Patterson helped put the lab's initial pieces in place.
The first two floors of the building house the crime lab where firearms will be tested and fingerprints examined.
The DNA lab, which for the last few years occupied space in Lorton, now has a permanent home.
An entire floor of the new building will house the city's morgue where autopsies will be done.
There is even a toxicology lab.
"To reduce this to what it's all about", said Mendelson, who is also chairman of the Judiciary Committee, "is that it's more likely that suspects will get convicted if there is good forensic science and its more likely that innocent people will not be convicted if there is good forensic science and that's what this building's about."
One other note, the crime lab is an independent lab with its director answering to the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, not to the Chief of Police.
In opening remarks, Mayor Gray also singled out former Mayor Tony Williams for praise, saying it was his vision that got the project off the ground.
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