By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
TOPEKA — With the unveiling of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s one-of-a-kind digital forensics lab Friday, director Kirk Thompson revealed just how expensive basic criminal investigations have become in the digital age.
The lab is a spinoff of the Regional Criminal Forensic Lab program overseen by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Dubbed a “transitional satellite lab,” it’s the first in what FBI and KBI officials hope will be a string of labs to be opened across the nation.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said the goal is to offer “basic criminal investigation services” in the form of digital forensic capabilities to all law enforcement agencies, not just those fortunate enough to be near one of the 16 RCFL’s across the U.S. KBI agents said this will allow investigators to more easily retrieve information and evidence from computers, cell phones and other digital devices.
But the KBI’s latest addition to its crime fighting arsenal didn’t come cheap; Thompson said the project came with an initial $980,000 price tag, which was split among federal, state and local law enforcement dollars. KBI deputy director Kyle Smith said the state chipped in $451,000 from its general fund, while federal dollars totaled about $353,000. Local departments covered the remaining $176,000.
“There are a whole lot of things the FBI is providing that they’re not actually buying. They’re furnishing training that we don’t have to pay for, all kinds of operational support, equipment, furniture, the list goes on and on,” Thompson said. “They’re not hard costs in some cases, especially what the FBI is providing”
Expenses covered by the state included remodeling a space within the KBI’s Topeka headquarters to house the lab, purchasing some equipment and covering salaries to fill out the staff.
What makes the lab unique is that while the FBI will help operate the lab initially, after about three to five years it will become fully controlled – and funded – by the KBI.
Both Thompson and Smith were fuzzy on the exact ongoing cost of the lab once the FBI relinquishes control. While Thompson was confident the initial startup cost would pose the biggest expenditure of the project, Smith acknowledged that hardware upgrades will likely factor into future expenses.
“You could train on something and two years later it doesn’t exist anymore,” Smith said.