You've got to be kidding, we thought: The Houston Police Department's crime lab has a backlog of more than 300 firearms forensics cases? On top of its backlogs of untested rape kits and unchecked fingerprints? and after years of cleaning up crummy work that led to at least four wrongful convictions?At this point, it ought to be news if HPD's evidence analysts do something well.And it ought to be long past obvious that our police shouldn't be managing a forensics lab. As the National Academy of Sciences reported last year, this isn't just HPD's problem: Cop culture naturally clashes with scientist culture — and when a forensics unit is inside a police department, almost inevitably, cop culture wins. When the budget is tight, rather than cutting uniforms on the street, departments slash lab budgets below the bare minimum. They don't hire enough techs, or they hire low-paid, badly trained ones. Backlogs and shoddy work become almost inevitable.In Houston, we're now paying a high cost for trying too hard to save money on forensics: So far, City Council has allocated more than $7 million for contractors to attack our various backlogs.But worse, the police department's slow, often shoddy lab work has made us all less safe. Dangerous guns — and the people who shoot them — stay on the street. Rapists aren't apprehended. And the innocent can languish, stuck in our overcrowded jails.So we ask yet again: Isn't it time for a regional forensics lab, one that works with all our area's law enforcement agencies but remains its own independent entity?
Monday, February 01, 2010
Chron: Cops shouldn't run Houston crime lab
This editorial from the Houston Chronicle this morning decrying foulups and backlogs at the Houston PD crime lab pretty much reflects my views on the subject. The piece opens: