The loss of the Sam Houston State University Regional Crime Lab, which opened in November 2010 in The Woodlands, will mean significant delays for results in testing evidence such as blood-alcohol and toxicology tests, said Assistant District Attorney Warren Diepraam, chief of the Vehicular Crimes Division for the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.
The crime lab will lose its current home in September because the landlord has found another tenant, said Dr. Vincent Webb, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at SHSU in Huntsville and director of the university’s Criminal Justice Center. ...Conversely, the Fort Worth PD crime lab hopes to expand capacity in its lab for DNA work, reported the Star-Telegram, after shutting down a decade ago "amid backlogs and accusations of shoddy work and contamination."
With the loss of the SHSU crime lab – which serves more than 70 agencies – Montgomery County now will have to send tests to a Texas Department of Public Safety Regional Crime Lab in Austin, which serves many more clients, Diepraam said.“With the Regional Crime Lab, we got results in a week or two,” he said. “Unfortunately, the DPS lab has a backlog of cases. For drug toxicology tests, it could take six to nine months to get results. That’s a concern to the district attorney that we’ll have people staying in jail while we’re waiting on results.”
From November 2010 to October 2011, the Regional Crime Lab ran 1,034 drug toxicology tests, with 900 of those from Montgomery County, Diepraam previously said. During that same time period, the lab analyzed 4,335 controlled substance evidence items, with 86 percent of them coming from Montgomery County, according to a casework overview by the lab.
The lab's two forensic scientists will begin working cases Monday, crime lab Director Tom Stimpson said Thursday. With the training of three other scientists at least six months away, Stimpson said, he hopes that the Police Department can stop outsourcing most DNA testing within a year.
"The benefit to the department for us really is going to be the turnaround time and the selection of what we can test," Stimpson said. "Now we're in full control of our evidence. We can test what we want and when we want it."Since Fort Worth was contracting with a private provider for DNA services, their new lab won't take any pressure off DPS' caseload, at least directly, but it will add to the state's overall lab capacity once it opens.
And the savings, he said, will be significant.
Grants cover some testing by the University of North Texas, but the Police Department must pay roughly $250,000 a year to Orchid Cellmark, a Dallas-based company, for other analyses, he said.
Putting a rush on a DNA order costs even more. "With Orchid, because they're a business, we were paying them a premium of about $500 a sample over and above what the regular cost was to have something done within a week or 15 days," Stimpson said.
An in-house DNA unit will also save money for the entire Police Department, because a faster turnaround can mean quicker arrests, he said.