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E MT Crime Lab Operating in Billings

Jackie Yamanaka

Montana Department of Justice officials say the newly operating satellite crime lab will speed up the process of analyzing drug evidence.

Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito says the Eastern Montana Crime lab should reduce expenses and delays for the state’s criminal justice system.

“Because every time I need to move to continue a trial when some test or something isn’t done that’s an expense to our system to everybody in this region,” he says.

“This will be one more step toward making sure justice is served,” says State Attorney General Tim Fox. “And that’s ultimately all of our goal is to make sure that it’s done well, fairly, and on a timely basis.”

So nearly 1 year after House Bill 512 was signed into law, that lab is a reality.

The bill’s main sponsor is state Representative Dale Mortensen, R-Billings, of Billings.

“It’s awesome,” he says.

At one time, the bill was somewhat in jeopardy as the scheduled 90-day session was grinding toward a close.

“We had some hitches in the get-along, if you will, and at times I was starting to worry about it,” Mortensen says. “But I was overall confident.”

He credits members of the Billings delegation, as well as colleagues from both the Montana House and Senate from both political parties for HB 512 landing on the governor’s desk.

Montana Department of Justice officials then had to find space for the lab. They found it at the Billings Clinic Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism Center.

The lab just began processing evidence.

“The Billings lab will focus on drug identification services,” says Attorney General Tim Fox. He says the lab “will help law enforcement agencies in Eastern Montana better respond to the growing number of drug cases.”

The state’s main crime lab remains in Missoula.

Dr. Phil Kinsey, division administrator of the Forensic Science Lab, says in Billings lab is staffed by 2 chemists, an evidence technician, and another staffer.

“It’s expected that the two analysts here should be able to process 700 drug cases in a year,” he says. That will take some of the pressure off of the crime lab in Missoula for evidence analysis, as well as demands on analysts to travel to testify in court for cases in Eastern Montana.

Kinsey says currently 70% of the drug cases involve methamphetamine, but more chemically complex substances such as “spice” or “bath salts” are also submitted for analysis. He says that type of evidence can take longer to analyze.