CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.,
Sept. 13, 2003 – A dedication ceremony was held today at 122 S. Ellis to mark the opening of the new state-of-the-art Southeast Missouri Regional Crime Laboratory.
The building in which the new laboratory is located, the Tlapek Building, is a former warehouse owned by the University. Part of the building has been remodeled and upgraded into a modern facility thanks to a $1.98 million federal earmark from the National Institute of Justice, an arm of the Department of Justice that deals with science and technology (forensic sciences).
“If it weren’t for the federal money, we would not have been able to do it,” said Dr. Robert Briner, director of the Southeast Missouri Regional Crime Laboratory, who credited U.S. Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond for his efforts in securing substantial federal aid for the expansion.
In addition, Southeast and the State of Missouri have supplied more than $350,000, and city and county governments have pledged approximately $250,000. The new lab is situated in about 8,000 square feet of space, up from about 2,000 square feet in its previous location.
The lab was recently relocated from its longtime home in a house along Henderson Street on the Southeast campus. The house was razed a few weeks ago to make room for additional parking on the campus.
The lab provides testing for drugs, firearms examinations, blood/body fluids, serology, trace evidence, arson, fingerprints, alcohol in blood, urine toxicology and DNA.
“Over the years, we have been more successful than we would have ever realized or that people would have guessed,” Briner said.
Speaking at the dedication ceremony were U.S. Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond; Kenneth W. Dobbins, president of Southeast Missouri State University, A.M. Spradling Jr., former Missouri state senator; John Tlapek, a member of the Southeast Board of Regents; and Briner.
The Southeast Missouri Regional Crime Laboratory began on campus in Magill Hall in 1969. In its first year, the lab took on 50 cases.
“Back then, crime was thought to be in cities, not in rural areas,” he said, explaining that most would have never believed the extent to which the lab’s case load has grown.”
Since that time, the laboratory has processed more than 60,000 cases.
“It was just a trial project to see if (law enforcement) agencies would use it,” he said.
At that time, crime labs were just getting their start, he said, adding that in 1965, there were only 50 crime labs located across the country. By 1975, that figure had grown to over 250. Today, there are currently 11 crime laboratories alone in the State of Missouri.
In 1976, the Southeast Missouri Regional Crime Lab was moved to the house along Henderson Street. Over the years, the lab’s work has progressed from drug analysis, testing blood alcohol and blood typing, to arson investigations, fingerprinting, firearms examinations and DNA testing.
DNA testing, he said, has become “such a powerful tool in terms of identification.”
Briner says the crime lab is vital to the law enforcement community in a 20-county service region. With a staff of six full-time employees and several undergraduate and graduate student workers, the lab currently serves some 90 different law enforcement agencies.
Briner is quick to praise law enforcement officers throughout Southeast Missouri for their contribution to the success of the lab.
“We’ve seen a big change in law enforcement officers being more well trained now,” he said. “We have tried to make them more aware of physical evidence, and they are just more professional.”
Briner says the Southeast Missouri Regional Crime Laboratory has established itself over the years as a credible organization with law enforcement agencies.
“Our credibility is good. Credibility is hard to put a finger on, and it is not gotten easily,” he said. “We have been doing our work long enough to have the confidence of law enforcement in Southeast Missouri, and that is the most gratifying part. We are a lab that has good credibility with law enforcement and the defense community.”
Following the dedication ceremonies, Briner will be with the laboratory another seven weeks, until he retires from the University after a 32-year career.
Looking back at the progression of the crime lab, Briner said, “It’s been a great ride. I wouldn’t trade the last 30 years for anything.”
He and his wife plan to move to Asheville, N.C., where he has taken a new position as scientific director of Keystone Laboratory.
“It will be a new challenge,” he said.