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Major backlog in state's drug lab might let drug dealers off easy

by Maggie Crane / News 4

KMOV.com

Posted on April 24, 2012 at 10:05 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 24 at 10:37 PM

(KMOV) -- Police busted a drug lab Tuesday afternoon, but the suspect will be free to go home by Wednesday.  News 4 discovered that drug dealers are getting off easy; released from jails all because of a major backlog in the state's drug lab.  I got an exclusive look at a new tool that might keep suspects behind bars longer.

We have got a problem with the system.  Dope dealers are getting out of jail every day because police can't prove fast enough what they're making, but new technology at their fingertips instantly shows police what they're up against.

The problem sounds ridiculous.  Franklin County narcotics detectives told me about a man they arrested for making meth in January.  In March, they arrested him again at the Daniel Boone Motel in Grey Summit for cooking the drugs in his room.  Two weeks ago, they picked up the same guy in Pacific and found meth in his backpack.  I can't tell you his name because he hasn't been charged with a crime -- yet.

My photographer and I weren't in Franklin County for more than a hour on Tuesday when police got a call for a meth lab.  A man is suspected of making meth inside a storage shed.  But, he won't go to jail -- at least, not for long -- because police can't hold a suspect for more than 24 hours without criminal charges.  They can't get charges without concrete proof from the drug lab, but a backlog at the state lab is creating an eight to 14-month wait, meaning drug dealers and users end up right back on the street.

"We've got individuals walking around right now with three and four meth labs," Sgt. Jason Grellner said.  "We still don't have charges on them, and I'm telling you, they're making meth 100 times before we catch them once, so if we've caught them three times, they've made it 300 times."

Sgt. Grellner hopes new technology on loan from Boston-based Thermo Scientific will change that.  Thermo Scientific developed "TruNarc," a handheld drug lab police can carry with them.  Tuesday is the first day they've used it, and Sgt. Grellner says he's already confirmed that meth was indeed found inside that storage shed I told you about.

"The fact that this thing has a zero false positive rate, it just doesn't miss," Scott Fitzpatrick, a safety and security specialist for Thermo Scientific, said.  "So if there's a drug there, we're going to get it."

We wanted to see what it could do, so we put it to the test on everything from hand sanitizer and Tic Tacs, to pseudophedrine, meth and heroin.  Each time TruNarc took a laser reading right through the containers and got it right.

"All we're looking for right now is probable cause," Sgt. Grellner said.  "We're not looking for reasonable doubt."

With probable cause, police can get charges and keep bad guys in jail longer.  The department would have to spend $20,000 to buy TruNarc, but it won't cost you a dime.

"We're going to take money we're taking away from drug dealers and turn around to use it against them," Sgt. Grellner said.  "I love doing that everyday of the week  and twice on Sundays."

Before it can be used to prove cases, TruNarc will have to be approved by prosecutors and judges.

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