There’s a Georgia police department that is getting sued because of cotton candy. According to a CBS News article published this summer, on a warm, humid night a woman was arrested because her sweet “fluffy treat had melted into blue crystals” and to the local police thought they looked like illegal drugs.
Results from a roadside test kit identified it as methamphetamine, which resulted in her being put in handcuffs, charged with intent to distribute (because of the amount of ‘crystals’ contained in the plastic bag) and bond was set at a million dollars. Not being able to make bail, she spent three months in jail waiting for the crime lab results to clear her name. She was eventually released when the lab results came back negative for any illegal drugs. She’s now suing.
One might wonder how that could happen. In fact, it happens very often because of crime lab backlogs. In the case of this Georgia police department, the testing process took three months because of the backlog at the lab. But the peach state is not alone. In fact, CBS News reported that dozens of states are significantly behind:
- At least seven states had average lab result turnaround times greater than 100 days in 2019.
- Rhode Island, West Virginia, and South Carolina all had average turnaround times greater than 150 days.
- In Illinois, there’s a backlog of more than 23,000 cases.
- It’s an issue in Arkansas, too, where crime lab director Kermit Channell says the problem escalated about six years ago in connection with the opioid crisis. In his lab alone, DNA and drug cases have nearly doubled since 2014.
Some departments are requesting more funding to increase staff for the crime lab while others are considering farming out some of the testing to private companies.
Another option to consider, however, is the use of the latest technology in the field. There are tools that police can use to identify the unknown substances when they search a vehicle or are involved in a drug bust. These tools — which utilize the well-established analytical technique called Raman spectroscopy — are used to identify key drugs of abuse as well as common cutting agents, precursors and emerging threats such as fentanyl, numerous fentanyl compounds including carfentanil, common street fentanyl analogs, pharmaceutical variants as well as the fentanyl precursors, NPP and ANPP.
Using this handheld narcotics analysis technology, one can scan directly through plastic or glass for most samples to minimize contamination, reduce exposure and preserve evidence. An officer can scan a sample and receive the result within seconds.
There are many police departments that are currently using narcotics analyzers to help fight the drug crisis. In fact, in one of our recent blog articles, we wrote about the Phoenix police department which approved a half million dollars’ worth of these high-tech devices to identify dangerous drugs and protect officers. Also, according to Phoenix police, not having the crime lab test every drug saves the city about $22,000 a month, and it probably saves prison costs as well. Many defendants that are involved in cases involving cities with long crime lab backups are pleading guilty, even if they are innocent, just to avoid the possible months-long jail time. (You can read about how handheld Raman analyzer strengthens law enforcement for narcotics identification here.)
These handheld narcotics analyzers offer a presumptive test that is more accurate and reliable than colorimetric drug tests. They scan more than 450 suspected controlled substances in a single, definitive test. Because of these features, it’s possible that the Georgia case may not have ever been initiated if the latest technology for material identification was used by police in the field. One short analysis would have alerted police that they were looking at a sugar confection, and not a drug conviction.
- Additional articles about the use of handheld narcotics analyzers in the field.
- You can see how the analyzers work in this video…. Just scroll to the video section at the bottom of this page and click on Thermo Scientific TruNarc Product Video – 2018.
- More info about handheld narcotics analysis technology