DeKalb Co. Sheriff urges legislature to solve budget crisis, issue of forensics funding

Northeast Alabama

Jimmy Harris, DeKalb County Sheriff (WHNT News 19 file)

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FORT PAYNE, Ala. - State lawmakers head back to Montgomery next week with one objective: to solve the state's budget for 2016.  The new fiscal year begins October 1.

Many departments will be watching the legislature closely, because they stand to suffer major cuts.  One is the Alabama Department of Forensics.

If funding doesn't come through, the Huntsville forensics lab and morgue would be shuttered.  Statewide fire debris analysis would also be cut.

DeKalb County Sheriff Jimmy Harris said cuts to forensics would be detrimental.

"This lab closure would impact 22 north Alabama counties leaving only two morgue facilities open, one being in Montgomery and the other one in Mobile. Any autopsies performed for us would have to be transported to Montgomery or Mobile. DeKalb County would be in line with the impacted 22 North Alabama counties for autopsies and the South Alabama counties that they already serve now," Sheriff Harris wrote in a news release issued Wednesday.


This would cause serious backlogs and delays in autopsies, which would also impact families of crime victims waiting to lay their loved ones to rest.

"Family members could see a prolonged wait of one to three weeks possibly in being able to receive their loved one back for funeral services. Sheriff Harris discussed this situation with Coroner Tom Wilson last week. Wilson is also concerned, stating that every budget year they cut back or threaten to cut back. He is currently paid $65 per body to transport to Huntsville and either wait on the autopsy or come back the next day to pick up the body. Coroner Wilson is fine with traveling to Huntsville and doing whatever he can to help the county, but to have to travel to Montgomery or Mobile to deliver a body and have to come back to pick them up would put a real hardship on him and his facility. Wilson stated that he would do whatever was necessary to work with the Sheriff’s Office and make it as easy on the family members as possible. Both Harris and Wilson hope that the House and Senate will come up with a solution and this can be avoided," the Sheriff wrote.

"Any time anyone loses a family member, it is a hard time and a prolonged wait would put unnecessary hardship and stress on family members and we hope that this does not happen," the Sheriff added.

Have an opinion about this issue? Contact your legislators.

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