By Lane Kimble, WJFW
WAUSAU - A converted ambulance no longer carries a stretcher or an EKG, but Captain Greg Bean knows what it does carry makes a huge difference in peoples' lives.
"We're pretty lucky to have them right in our back yard," Bean said.
The state Crime Lab's mobile response unit rolls out of its post in Wausau any time agencies like Bean's Marathon County Sheriff's Office need expert analysis and processing. That included responding in just minutes to the March 22, 2017 shootings where four people were killed.
Still, Bean -- who has been in law enforcement for 32 years and worked for the MCSO since 1990 -- recalls years ago waiting hours for trucks to roll up from Milwaukee or Madison before Wausau got its unit. The crime lab in Wausau opened in 1991.
"That was just the nature of the beast back then," Bean said.
Monday, police and lawmakers joined Attorney General Josh Kaul and Gov. Tony Evers to tour the Wausau Crime Lab and push for more funding at all three labs, including Milwaukee and Madison. Reps. Beth Meyers (D-Bayfield), Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point), Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire), Pat Snyder (R-Schofield), and Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua) joined the tour.
The Wausau lab does much more than send out its truck to the 40 counties in northern Wisconsin it covers. Bean says analysts test evidence for the marathon county sheriff's office every day.
"We need that evidence to be analyzed and processed and that turnaround time needs to happen quickly," Everest Metro Police Chief Clay Schulz said.
Through Evers' budget proposal, Kaul is asking for a combined $3.7 million to pay crime lab employees better wages, add chemists and crime scene responders to each of the state's three labs, and add a combined six DNA technicians for the units in Milwaukee and Madison.
"What I think we should be doing is making sure that we stay ahead of the curve here so we don't end up in a position where we start seeing really long backlogs," Kaul said.
The biggest challenge has been a jump in DNA testing. Police say most cases in 2019 include some level of it. Kaul thinks the state has enough DNA analysts, but worries they're too tied up with non-analytical tasks. By adding more specialists, scientists can focus on their main tasks as opposed to preparing case files and reviewing evidence for trials.
Evers thinks lawmakers on both sides can understand the benefits to that work.
"I don't know of any Republican or Democrat that wants to impede our justice system to be as fair as possible," Evers said. "To me, it's a Wisconsin value."
"When we hear that they're looking out for the future, it's exciting and very much needed," Bean said.
Bean says no matter what happens with this funding, his office is also moving forward. The MCSO is working to develop a forensics lab in north-central Wisconsin to help some of the smaller departments test things like laptops and smartphones, while still using the crime lab daily.
The state legislature's Joint Finance Committee plans to start taking up budget requests this week. The budget is due by June 30.