DENTON COUNTY (CBS 11 NEWS) – Everywhere you turn there’s evidence one North Texas county is growing at an unprecedented rate.
As it stands there are different types of construction spanning across Denton County. The area is getting close to hitting the one million population mark, and when that happens the state will require the county to have its own medical examiner and crime lab.
A CBS 11 News crew got a look at a forensic lab dedicated to finding the smallest traces of evidence.
Graduate student Charlie Clemons explained, “These drug particles here we can pull out.”
Students on the University of North Texas’ campus have already helped out the feds. “We were pulling drugs out of fingerprints for Department of Defense,” Clemons said. And those students will son shift their attention to the Denton County Sheriff’s Office.
“What it is going to do is, it’s going to enable us to analyze our own drugs, analyze our own fingerprints, [and] analyze anything crime related,” Denton County Sheriff Will Travis said enthusiastically.
UNT will house the county’s entirely new crime lab in an existing building on campus. Graduate students will staff it.
Dr. Guido Verbeck, director of the UNT crime lab said, “Students that are running this all have the same background that would be necessary to work at any crime lab.” Verbeck said the students would undergo the same background checks, have the same degrees, and the same backgrounds as a normal drug analyzer.
It could be a year before the lab is certified and up and running. The time seems to be moving at a snail’s pace for some. “The ability to work with a real crime lab is going to be exciting,” Clemons said. “It’s very, very exciting to have an opportunity like this. I think there probably are not a lot of forensically oriented students that get this kind of first hand experience and exposure.”
The set up could be a win-win for students lucky enough to be chosen to work in the lab. Besides experience students will get a stipend of $25,000 to $30,000 a year and tuition waiver, for working 20 hours a week.
The UNT Crime Lab is being modeled ones at Sam Houston State and the University of Central Oklahoma.
Currently all work for Denton County is done by the Texas Department of Public Safety’s lab in Garland. The location also has a major backlog.
Sheriff Travis said there are thousands of drug cases still open, because they are waiting on test results. “Right now they are overworked and understaffed. They have 44 different counties that they process drugs for,” he said. “This [opening of UNT lab] will mean that cases will be running through the process so much sooner.”
Dr. Verbeck will head the lab, along with the sheriff’s office.
Denton County officials say they want to try out the UNT lab for a year before making any long-term plans – that agreement was approved Wednesday.
Sheriff Travis said he hopes to add toxicology and DNA testing to the lab soon after its open.
CBS 11 talked with the district attorney’s office and was told the most important key will getting the new lab certified.
As far as that 1,000,000-population mark — according to the 2012 census there were some 707,304 citizens living in Denton County.
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