The University of North Texas and Denton County have agreed to create the county's first forensic drug-analysis lab.
The lab's main purpose will be to run blood tests and other forensics work for drug cases.
County Commissioners signed the one-year deal for the on-campus lab last week. About $300,000 worth of instruments from the sheriff's department will move to the new lab. UNT also will contribute equipment used by its forensics students and new instruments it has developed for use in drug analysis.
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"It's an incredible opportunity," said Guido Verbeck, who will head up UNT's portion of the lab.
Drug-seizure money will pay for the lab, he said. UNT will provide the space and the salaries of two graduate students to staff the lab.
"We have the first accredited forensics program this side of the Mississippi, so we can bring students that already have the prereqs you need to work as a tech in a lab, but they can also be working towards their graduate degree," Verbeck said.
The Denton County Sheriff's Office also will provide some professional workers for the lab.
Like most counties in North Texas, Denton County currently sends its blood and forensics work to the Texas Department of Public Safety lab in Garland. But the DPS lab is overloaded with work and understaffed, meaning it often can take six months to a year to get the information needed for prosecution, the Denton County sheriff's department said.
The department hopes having a lab of its own will speed things up.
But lab leaders admit there are still some unknowns at this point.
The lab, which will be located at an undisclosed on-campus location, will have to undergo about a year of testing to gain accreditation from the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors.
During that time, they will work out the work flow of the lab, make sure test results match those of the Garland lab and see what kind of costs and time requirements come up in the new setting, Verbeck said.
Both sides seem hopeful that the preliminary process will go smoothly and that the lab will be up and running fully in that time.
Verbeck said they plan to keep growing and hope to make UNT the center of Denton County's forensics system as the area grows.
"We currently have 707,304 citizens living in Denton County," county spokeswoman Sandi Brackeen said. "Once we reach that 1 million mark, we will be required by the state to have our own medical examiner and lab, so this is an excellent first step toward that goal."
For now, they hope to make the best of the new partnership, Verbeck said.
"The taxpayers get a break from bond issues, and we get the benefit of having the instruments and expertise here on campus, training for the students," he said.