Sheriff upset over proposed change for Hennepin County Crime Lab

A possible shakeup at the Hennepin County Crime Lab is drawing criticism from local law enforcement agencies across the metro who depend on the service.

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office currently manages the crime lab that provides forensic services to 44 cities in Hennepin County--but not for long if the County Board passes a new resolution to separate the two and make the forensic crime unit an independently run body.

The proposal passed during a budget meeting Wednesday, turning over the issue to the full County Board next Tuesday for discussion and, ultimately, a final vote.

"We've not had complaints and we've not had concerns--the lab is doing fantastic work," Hennepin County Commissioner Marion Greene said. "Essentially, this amounts to a managerial change."

Separating the crime lab from both law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies is an idea that's been kicked around for years but was only formally proposed just over a week ago, leaving the various police departments affected by the news "stunned." 

Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek and other law enforcement leaders spoke out Wednesday against the changes, saying they were not discussed with the sheriff’s office or the nearly three dozen suburban police departments that rely on the crime lab to process evidence for its investigators. 

"This is an amendment that has not had any public comment, testimony, or a chance for stakeholders to respond," Stanek said. "That is a violation of the public trust."

Last year, the Hennepin County Crime Lab collected and processed evidence from more than 2,400 crime scenes. Stanek says a change in management could jeopardize public safety by increasing response times to crime scenes and create longer wait times for evidence processing, potentially leading to an increase in violent crime.

"Placing a crime laboratory under the jurisdiction of a non law enforcement administrator, no matter how well intentioned, creates a significant risk," former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger said.