State Crime Lab Facing Challenging Staffing Issue

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A declining number of employees at the State Crime Lab in Bismarck has limited what evidence can be processed for law enforcement agencies, according to the attorney general.

Eight of 23 lab employees have left in the last two years, including five in 2021, because they’ve been offered higher salaries elsewhere, according to Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

“The salary disparity is something that makes it much more difficult to attract and retain our forensic scientists,” Stenehjem told the Bismarck Tribune.

One worker left for a position in Georgia where the salary was $30,000 more. Two toxicology scientist finalists both declined job offers due to the pay.

“It’s become a situation where it’s just not sustainable,” the attorney general told the Senate Appropriations Committee recently. The State Crime Lab forensic scientist annual salaries range from $48,000 to $85,704.

“Part of the problem is that these are national searches,” Stenehjem said. “You have to find people from all over the country, and we’re competing with an increasing demand in an area that has a lot of demand for more workforce.”

Stenehjem has asked the Legislature this fall to use $537,000 of leftover Consumer Protection Refund Fund money to increase lab salaries.

The lab has eliminated its firearms and latent fingerprint divisions due to the staffing level. South Dakota was doing firearms analyses for the lab, but is now overwhelmed and unable to help anymore, Stenehjem said.