A regional crime lab conceived to serve a half-dozen Greater Portland municipalities has garnered so much interest that it is now slated to serve all of Cumberland County, county commissioners say.

As of last week, Falmouth, Westbrook, Scarborough, South Portland, Portland, Windham and Yarmouth had signed on, along with the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office. Several other towns, including Cape Elizabeth, have expressed and interest in joining.

Originally, participating municipalities were expected to be assessed a share of the $131,000 cost based on their usage, according to Commissioner Dick Feeney. But legal issues surrounding how the county would raise the money for its share of the lab costs led to a funding formula change. The county will pay for the entire lab through its general assessment tax and all county municipalities will have access to it. The towns will be charged a fee, payable to the county, based on their population, commissioners said.

“By taking the cost and spreading it out county-wide, there’s going to be a lesser impact on the municipalities than there would have been previously,” Feeney said. “All in all, it’s a good situation for police departments that … do not have their own crime labs.”

The sheriff’s office, which currently has its own crime lab, will move its equipment to the regional crime lab in Portland, he said. Other police departments are expected to contribute equipment, as well.

Nearly all towns and cities in Cumberland County would use the lab indirectly, said Commissioner Mallory Shaughnessy, because the sheriff’s department provides some police assistance – such as accident reconstruction help – even in towns that have their own police departments.

“It’s a pooling of resources, which, in these times of increasingly tight budgets, is the way to go,” Shaughnessy said.

Currently, most Cumberland County municipal police departments rely on the state crime lab in Augusta. In Cape Elizabeth, Police Chief Neil Williams said he expects a significant saving in mileage alone, as well as a faster turn-around time.

Williams said he also hopes a central crime lab will help area departments share information more efficiently.

“Criminals don’t have borders,” he said. “We figured if we could put this crime lab together, we could solve (crimes) by evidentiary means, but we could also do it by word of mouth.”

Feeney said he expects construcion of the lab, which will be located in the Portland Police Department gymnasium, to begin July 1.


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