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KBI office ready for upgrades
KBI director, legislators, visit Great Bend facility
Kansas Bureau of Investigation Director Tony Mattivi, standing, addresses legislators while visiting the Great Bend KBI Office, Thursday afternoon. Pictured are Rep. Tory Blew, R-Great Bend, left, and Sen. Alicia Straub, R-Ellinwood. - photo by Susan Thacker

The Great Bend office of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation will undergo the second phase of a major renovation if the Kansas Legislature approves the proposed budget and it is signed by Gov. Laura Kelly. The state could appropriate unspent federal economic stimulus funding, using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money to replace the HVAC system on one side of the facility in Great Bend and to finish a laboratory renovation project than began in 2021.

With that in mind, KBI Director Tony Mattivi and other KBI supervisors joined several Kansas legislators for a meeting Thursday at the Great Bend facility. Sen. Alicia Straub, R-Ellinwood, and Rep. Tory Blew, R-Great Bend, were among those in attendance.

After remarks by Mattivi and a welcome from KBI Special Agent in Charge Cory Latham in the afternoon, guests were invited to tour the facility.

“We wanted to gather here today to very publicly thank the members of the Kansas Legislature for assistance that they gave us during this last legislative cycle,” Mattivi said. “With the assistance of the Kansas Legislature, we were able to increase the KBI’s annual rehabilitation and repair budget from $100,000 to $300,000 per year, which will greatly improve our ability to address the maintenance and repairs of the facilities that the KBI has all across the state of Kansas.”

He’s hopeful the federal ARPA appropriation for $910,000 will also be approved.

“Today, you’ll get to see exactly what we have planned for that investment,” Mattivi told the visiting legislators. “Finally, the KBI is set to receive additional funding to launch what we call our Surge Initiative, that aims at making strides in our fight against the increase in violent crimes and crimes committed against children, and to increase our efforts to disrupt drug trafficking, and particularly the distribution of fentanyl in our state.”

Feeling the heat

Moving from the meeting room for a tour of the labs, forensic scientist Eric Moore pointed out the obvious change in temperature. Pointing to his lab, Moore said, “It’s about 88 degrees in there right now because our air conditioning doesn’t work.” He said he tries to finish his lab work in the morning when it’s cooler.

The first phase of renovation was finished on time and within budget, he said, adding he hopes Phase Two will pass through the governor.

Remodeling for better use of space is even more critical, he said. 

KBI Lab Director TL Price was also present and stressed that even in less-than-ideal condition, things are being accomplished at the Great Bend facility. “This (Phase One) has already made a big difference.”

Facility History

The 28 staff at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation office at 625 Washington St. in Great Bend include KBI agents (in field and special operations), forensic scientists (in chemistry, latent prints and biology/DNA), criminal intelligence analysts, agent and laboratory supervisors, and a victims’ advocate coordinator.

After doing lab work, scientists must be available to testify in court. During a year, the office receives roughly 4,000 subpoenas to testify.

• The east wing (investigations) was built in the 1960s

• The west wing (laboratory) was built in 1978

• The second floor of the laboratory (biology/DNA and evidence) was remodeled in 2007

• A portion of the first-floor laboratory (latent prints/chemistry) was remodeled in 2021

Legislative Support

• This session’s budget bill included $910,000 to replace the Laboratory HVAC system and complete the first-floor Laboratory remodel

Remaining Needs

• Agent evidence storage improvements

• Investigations area/east wing remodel

• Crime scene processing area

• Training space

• IT and disaster recovery site improvements

KBI Lab Director TL Price, left, and Eric Moore from the KBI Forensic Lab in Great Bend are shown during a tour of the facility. - photo by Susan Thacker/Great Bend Tribune

KBI offices

Great Bend’s facility is one of the KBI’s regional offices that houses an investigation staff and laboratory staff. Four or five Kansas Highway Patrol troopers also use it at their office. “They are viewed as a partner in providing service to the citizens of Kansas,” he said.

The KBI is headquartered in Topeka, which is where its largest laboratory, the Forensic Science Center, is located on the campus of Washburn University. There are also offices in Wichita, Lenexa, Pittsburg and Garden City, and laboratories in Kansas City and Pittsburg.

“There are a total of 28 employees of the KBI at this facility – 15 on the investigation side, who provide investigative services to 46 western Kansas counties,” he said.

 “These services are incredibly important to our sheriffs and police chiefs because 70% of Kansas law enforcement agencies have 10 or fewer officers. Those law enforcement officers are our customer base. Those agencies are why the KBI exists, to provide them with services that they can’t provide for themselves.”

Great Bend’s facility

“On the laboratory side here in Great Bend, we have an Evidence Control Center where we receive new evidence from our law enforcement customers in approximately 70 of Kansas’s counties,” he said. “Approximately 25% of the total evidence submitted to the KBI comes through this facility and much of it is transferred from here to the appropriate forensic scientist within our system to be analyzed.”

The regional facility saves area law enforcement officers from having to travel to Topeka to securely submit their evidence for testing. The Great Bend laboratory mainly conducts examinations in chemistry, biology, DNA, and latent fingerprints. Firearms, toxicology and digital evidence are also received here but then the evaluation is performed in other laboratories, the director said.

An earlier version of this story was posted online on April 20, 2023.

Guests tour an instrument lab in the Great Bend KBI office. - photo by Susan Thacker/Great Bend Tribune