Philadelphia’s new crime lab has been in the works for years, and the city is still deciding where to place it

It’s been a year and a half since Philadelphia secured millions of taxpayer dollars from the state to build a new crime lab where police can process evidence including weapons and drugs, and almost a year since more than a dozen companies have applied to keep it.

However, the city has not yet selected a location, let alone started design and construction. Philadelphia’s plan to equip the Police Department with a new, improved crime lab is now in its third year and won’t be completed for at least another 18 months.

The pace of progress has gun violence advocates publicly criticizing the city, and key players want new Mayor Cherelle L. Parker to act with more urgency than her predecessor.

“The city should have launched this at least 10 years ago,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said. “And every day without these resources is a day that people who commit crimes that tear apart society get away with it, and sometimes people who didn’t commit a crime at all end up in a prison cell. “

The Police Department’s existing crime lab and evidence processing space was described as too small and outdated. Virtually everyone in the government agrees that police need a new lab – officials have often floated it as a potential solution to the wave of gun violence that began in 2020.

Almost every stage of the financing and development process was steeped in politics and included input from some of local government’s biggest names. Krasner, a progressive prosecutor, has been perhaps the most vocal voice advocating for a new lab over the years. State senators, including Sharif Street, head of the state Democratic Party, helped provide funding.

” READ MORE: Update on Mayor Parker’s proposed police budget: new staff, equipment and $50 million for forensics

Last year, then-Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration considered various site options but chose none before he left office. That left Parker, which opened in January, inheriting a complex, multi-year project in which its employees were not involved in the development.

Where to put it has become a competitive process, with neighborhood groups and elected officials vying for a piece of the city’s growing life sciences ecosystem.

Parker the administration selects one of three locations where the laboratory can be located after lobbying officials representing the areas where the laboratory can be located. Street and council member Curtis Jones Jr. they want it in a warehouse complex in North Philly. Councilmember Jamie Gauthier supports the initiative in the college town’s life sciences corridor. Some people think it would be wise to place it across the street from the police headquarters on North Broad Street.

A spokesman for the Parker administration did not respond to questions. Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel told the City Council in April that the site selection process was in its final stages.

“We are very excited,” Bethel said, “to have the opportunity to house our men and women in a modern building that truly meets the demands of modern forensics.”

Where will the crime lab go

The city is considering three very different locations.

  1. 401 N. Broad St., an office building across the street from police headquarters on the north end of Center City.

  2. 2450 W. Hunting Park Ave., a warehouse on the campus of the former vacant Budd Co. plant. Hunting Park in North Philadelphia, which developers see as a bio-manufacturing hub.

  3. 4101 Market St., University City Laboratory Building.

There are many factors to consider, said Jamie Doran, managing partner at JacobsWyper Architects, who specializes in science and technology.

Space should be provided for cooling and storing samples; documenting parking and loading of police vehicles to leave evidence; access to main roads and highways; security. Doran also said labs require rooms with higher ceilings than a typical office building because they require stronger ventilation systems and ductwork.

This means that locating the lab in the North Broad Street office building may require significant modernization. The North Philly warehouse is something of a blank slate, and the lab space on Market Street is already set up for that.

Gauthier, whose district includes the Market Street building, takes this for granted.

“It is a state-of-the-art, newly built facility designed for this type of tasks,” she said. “It’s hard for me to imagine a facility that would have so many amenities in the building and the way the building is set up for this type of work.”

Others say locating the lab at the former Budd manufacturing facility in North Philly, which was purchased by developers in 2019, could support revitalize what was once a vacant convoluted and a physical symbol of post-industrial decline.

” READ MORE: The Budd Plant will be redeveloped as a life sciences center

Street, the former mayor’s son, said North Philadelphia residents have been talking for decades about reviving the plant, which at its peak employed 7,000 workers. Street argues that the city investing its own resources in the complex could further stimulate investment and job creation in the area.

“It’s a huge legacy,” he said. “I wish I could respond to some of the older people before they leave us and say, ‘Look, we did it. We are done with Budd.”

A long-term process is coming into play

Since Philadelphia police have failed over the years to solve most of the city’s shootings, it seemed untrue when Krasner – who had been at odds with police leaders to varying degrees over the years – began claiming that the city needed to invest $50 million in a new crime lab . He argued that his office could increase convictions if police brought more cases with irrefutable evidence from guns, cellphones and DNA.

By 2022, other members of the government began to agree. The City Council negotiated with the Kenney administration to increase the police budget by $5 million to modernize the crime lab.

Around the same time, Street and State Sen. Vincent Hughes worked with Krasner to develop a plan to fund a new lab or upgrade an existing one. They have secured $25 million in state funds for this purpose by the end of 2022, which is double the lab’s previous annual budget.

Street said even Republicans support increasing funding for fighting crime, especially just two years after the “defund the police” movement swept the country.

” READ MORE: State awards $50 million to improve crime lab and police surveillance systems in Philadelphia

Street said it was Kenney who needed to be convinced. At the time, Kenney and Krasner were openly exchanging insults and strongly disagreed on how to stop record levels of gun violence. Street said he didn’t think the Kenney administration considered the project a priority.

However, in early 2023, the Kenney administration greenlit the project and allocated a $50 million budget for it.

Last summer, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, the city’s economic development arm, asked companies to apply to locate the new lab. PIDC spokesman Kevin Lessard said 14 candidates applied. A selection committee composed of employees from six city departments assessed the candidates and then prepared a shortlist.

City officials in the Kenney administration and now the Parker administration have conducted numerous site visits and interviews with building owners. Now the choice of location is up to Parker and her best employees.

Jones, who chairs the council’s public safety committee, said he would like to see the lab in North Philadelphia, but more importantly, he said he just wants to see the lab, period.

“Wherever he puts himself is fine,” Jones said. “Let’s put this somewhere.”

Inquirer staff writer Ellie Rushing contributed to this article.

Get in Touch


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Latest Posts