Topeka An explosion of methamphetamine cases and a lack of chemists has caused such lengthy delays in processing evidence at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation laboratories that prosecutors are forced to dismiss charges against some drug manufacturers, according to a state audit.
A state audit released Thursday quoted an unidentified law enforcement officer as saying, "KBI lab results take so long that suspects remain at large and keep manufacturing meth and teaching others before they are finally incarcerated."
Evidence in 227 methamphetamine cases is awaiting tests at the laboratories. It takes at least 4 1/2 months to complete the detailed analysis of evidence required to prosecute a case. Some of the cases have been in the KBI labs for more than two years.
"What good does it do to find those (drug) labs if we aren't going to be able to do anything?" asked Rep. John Ballou, a Gardner Republican and member of the Legislative Post Audit Committee that reviewed the audit Thursday. Suspects will end up being released because it takes too much time to get results, he said.
Identification of the evidence is a key component of any meth case, prosecutors said in a survey conducted by state auditors.
KBI Director Larry Welch told the committee that performance would improve once additional chemists were hired and trained. Five chemists are to be hired once a $1.9 million federal grant arrives, but it will take about a year to train the analysts.
KBI officials said it takes a chemist about 20 hours to handle a single meth test, which involves several ingredients and combinations of ingredients. It takes only two hours to complete the testing for other drugs.
Welch said the skyrocketing number of meth labs across Kansas was the KBI's most pressing concern. Last year the KBI reported finding 702 meth labs. Through July 18 of this year, 405 labs had been found.
In a survey of law enforcement agencies and prosecutors conducted by state auditors, about a third said they spent 10 percent to 25 percent of their time dealing with meth enforcement. Last year at least $21 million was spent on anti-meth activities in Kansas. Local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors spent $11.8 million.
Kansas ranks second nationally in the number of meth labs reported to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. However, KBI officials said that ranking might not be accurate because some states do not report to the agency.