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PENDLETON — The new Oregon State Police crime lab in Pendleton is open and running.

Calvin Davis is the forensic scientist in charge of the lab at 612 Airport Road, practically next door to the local command for Oregon State Police and the headquarters of the Pendleton Police Department. He said the building is a significant upgrade from the old office space on the 700 block of Southwest Emigrant Avenue.

He stopped short of calling that place “makeshift,” but noted the old building was better suited for typical office work than it was the demands of a crime laboratory. Stepping into the new chemistry section, for example, he said, feels not only more comfortable but a good deal safer.

State police had options for converting other buildings and spaces into a crime lab, but each came with big downsides. Blue Mountain Community College offered to provide space at its Pendleton campus. Making the lab secure, however, would have been a significant issue.

State police decided to pay about $4.5 million to design and build a new lab. The construction began last August and wrapped in the spring.

“We moved in on May 15,” Davis said, “but it took us awhile to get up and going and set everything up.”

Some of that was due to the typical nature of moving across town. But Davis said a forensic laboratory takes more than plugging equipment into outlets. He said the scientific equipment the lab depends on had to go through calibrations and verification to ensure it worked.

The lab staff also have found a few things that need a bit more work, such as a blemish here or a sticky drawer there. Contractors are making those fixes, but Davis said there have been no major repairs.

Local law enforcement remain keen on having the lab nearby.

Hermiston police chief Jason Edmiston said it sure beats having to deliver evidence to the OSP lab in Bend or even to La Grande, where state police considered moving the local lab. Umatilla County’s population also has the greatest demand for an evidence team, he said, and the staff in Pendleton are top notch.

Pendleton police chief Stuart Roberts said the investment should signal the end to regular talk of cutting funding for the lab or yanking it out of the county. He said he argued year in and out to keep the lab in town since donning chief bars 17 years ago.

Like Edmiston, he praised the lab staff for the work it does, from gathering evidence in the field to prescreening DNA. He also said the shiny jewel of a new lab could entice young forensic scientists to relocate and stick around Pendleton.

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Information from: East Oregonian, http://www.eastoregonian.com