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Kane County expands in-house forensics with federal funds

Kane County recently received $1 million from the federal government to expand its in-house forensic science lab that officials say could one day be a “full-service” regional hub for DNA and drug testing.

The lab currently is able to test substances that law enforcement suspects are drugs and blood for the amount of alcohol it contains, according to the two lab directors. Co-Director Timothy Ruppel said the new federal funding will allow the lab to take its first steps into DNA testing and toxicology, which is testing a person’s blood for certain chemical substances like drugs.

Although the lab is currently small, just one office in the Kane County Sheriff’s Office building in Geneva, it has already helped speed up law enforcement investigations and coroner reports alike, according to Kane County elected officials.

Kane County Coroner Rob Russell said it used to take a minimum of two weeks just to get preliminary results for drug and alcohol tests because he had to send them to a lab in Pennsylvania. Now, those tests can be fully completed in just a few hours at the county’s own lab, he said.

“For me, that’s important because I’ve got families that are trying to bury their loved ones and want to move on,” Russell said.

With the DNA testing equipment that will be purchased with the new federal funding, Russell said he will no longer need to send samples to Texas and wait for them to come back when a body is unable to be identified through normal means, such as physical appearance or dental records.

For Kane County State’s Attorney Jamie Mosser, faster test results means she can more quickly bring charges against potential criminals, preventing them from committing more crimes or fleeing the county, she said.

Also, the longer it takes to bring a charge forward, the more difficult it is to prove a case, according to Mosser.

The lab was created last June as a partnership between the Kane County Sheriff’s Office, Coroner’s Office and State’s Attorney’s Office.

“This has nothing to do with politics. This has nothing to do with agendas. This has everything to do with us wanting to keep our community as safe as possible,” Mosser said.

Russell said he had the idea many years earlier, when he realized that current labs are either too far away, too expensive or are overloaded with jobs. However, it took just the right team of elected officials to pull it off, which is why the lab was created last year and is now being expanded, he said.

As the Kane County Forensic Science Center continues to grow, Russell said he hopes it will one day expand and be used by law enforcement agencies in the area which are outside the county at a small fee. Law enforcement in nearby states might want to send their items to Kane County too, he said.

The goal is for the lab to one day become its own, self-funding county department, with revenue coming from the fees charged to outside law enforcement agencies, Mosser said.

However, to get the lab to the point where it can accept jobs from outside the county and have all the equipment to run the tests that are needed, additional funding is currently being requested from the federal government, the state and the county board, according to Russell and Mosser.

The federal government’s recent $963,000 grant through the Community Project Funding program was only about a third of what the county expected and asked for, Russell said.

“We’re going to have to adjust what equipment that we buy initially,” he said. “We’re still in discussion about that. We just want to be as effective as possible as soon as possible.”

While county officials were informed that they would be receiving the grant, the money has not yet been transferred, according to Russell.

He said there is currently no timeline on when the additional equipment to be purchased with the new federal money will be ready for use.

Read More: Kane County expands in-house forensics with federal funds

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