TAYLORSVILLE — A handful of Utah lawmakers sniffed a marijuana plant, fired a handgun and glimpsed technology that speeds analysis of bullets and rape kits on Monday during a tour of the Utah State Crime Lab that opened in February.
Director Jay Henry led the group of four legislators, two staffers and journalists around the $41 million, state-of-the-art laboratories and offices following a legislative criminal justice subcommittee budget discussion that convened on the sprawling Taylorsville campus of the Utah Department of Public Safety.
Rep. Jim Dunnigan, examining a 10-foot-long tank of water used to replicate grooves on bullets that can identify where the firearm came from, questioned how the water could limit the bullet's trajectory to just a few feet.
So lab Director Jay Henry passed around ear plugs and a lab employee handed the Taylorsville Republican a 9 mm handgun. The legislator fired twice into the tank and later observed the full-metal-jacket bullet made its way a few feet farther than the hollow-point.
Asked if he had known he would have the opportunity to fire the gun, Dunnigan said, "No. I can say if we all would have known that, we would have had a little bit bigger representation."
Most of 13 committee members left before the lookaround that lasted about an hour, but Henry led those who stayed through a room lined with pipes, pictures of ecstasy pills, meth and other drugs, and up to a marijuana plant. His experts need to testify in court and understand how the drugs are made or processed in different stages, he explained.
The lawmakers took turns sniffing the plant's leaves, with some saying it smelled like mint.
"Smells like catnip to me," said Rep. Bruce Cutler, a Republican from Murray.
Cutler and his colleagues peered in on an expansive sexual assault forensic lab equipped with new machines that are helping analyze DNA of 2,000 rape kits waiting to be tested.Comment on this story
Rep. Angela Romero, the Salt Lake City Democrat whose successful 2017 bill mandated the testing, said the speedy processing would help lab staffers turn their attention to other crimes.
Another computer system at the lab matches bullets and casings from crime scenes with evidence from Utah, California and Nevada. Of the 90 cases Henry's employees have submitted into the system since August, 16 have had connection to earlier cases — including to a homicide, Henry said.
"It's a way for us to electronically tie the shootings together," Henry said. "They get actionable intelligence fast."