In February, a Leander resident called 911 to report a nighttime assault. Leander Police Department officers arrived at the scene and set up outdoor lighting to investigate. But Lt. Billy Fletcher had to make another trip to bring lighting devices to the site because the department has only one vehicle for crime scene investigation, Fletcher said.
“Either you can store stuff or you can carry a lot of evidence, but you can’t do both” in the vehicle, Fletcher said.
In March the department applied for a $50,392 state grant from the Criminal Justice Division of the Governor’s Office. If the grant is approved by June, police could use the funds to reimburse a purchase of a larger crime scene van by October. Fletcher said the van could come with new evidence-collection equipment, such as for lighting and measuring. The new van would have more space for transporting equipment or evidence and would replace the department’s current crime scene vehicle, a refitted Chevrolet Tahoe.
Crime scene specialist Vonda Samford said it is hard for officers to find tools in the current vehicle.
“When I need something, usually it’s in the bottom of one of these boxes,” Samford said. “If we get the new [vehicle], we will have shelves where everything [has] its own place.”
Fletcher said that even if the department does not receive the grant, it will retire the Tahoe and attempt to budget for a new crime scene vehicle. Police also want to hire a second crime scene specialist and buy a second crime scene vehicle to meet the city’s needs, he said.
In the 2014-15 fiscal year the department spent $3,966 on crime scene supplies, such as fingerprint powder and evidence bags. However, Fletcher said most of the items are used by patrol officers and are not part of the crime scene vehicle’s regular inventory.
“We have expanded so much out [closer to] Jonestown, all that area,” Fletcher said. “If we have to go back to get equipment, that’s a [lengthy] drive. … That actually reduces our efficiency.”
The department estimates Leander’s population is 40,000 people, which includes residents in new neighborhoods and apartments. He said growth leads to more law-enforcement needs.
Leander’s first murder in 20 years occurred in 2015. Reports of assaults, burglaries and robberies increased from 2014 to 2015. Fletcher said officers need more equipment and time to perform investigations of crimes such as shootings and stabbings.
“We’re starting to see a lot more crime scenes that require a lot more evidence collection,” he said. “[These crimes] require much more in-depth investigation and crime scene control.”
In coming years the department wants to add more employees as well as equipment, such as new technology to use at police headquarters. Detectives could investigate crimes committed by cell phone without sending the phones to other labs, Fletcher said.
“We’re no longer a small department; we’re a medium-sized department,” he said. “This grant allows us to spend more money on other capabilities.”