Immediately after the Austin Police Department shuttered parts of its troubled crime lab, police officials asked experts from the Texas Department of Public Safety to help retrain APD staffers with a goal of possibly getting the lab up and running again.
But Monday, DPS officials told the department they had lost faith in most of the staffers they were working with — and wouldn’t be returning.
Instead, according to a one-page letter obtained by the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV, only a select two from a staff of six DNA analysts are invited to a state facility to continue training in a “supportive environment.”
“I know they feel there have been some challenges, and they aren’t confident in the work of some of our analysts that we have had in retraining,” interim Police Chief Brian Manley said. “Since they have been doing this for us, we want to respect their decision and respect their request.”
Manley said Monday was the first time he had personally been notified of the gravity of the situation.
“They have been in contact with some of our supervisors, but to be made aware of this level of concern, where they don’t want to move forward with four of our scientists, that is a new development,” he said.Art Acevedo left town at an opportune time, one notices in passing. But it's worth mentioning that this failure in part stems from the now-Houston PD chief's relative inattention to and de-prioritization of most of his department's duties besides patrol, which he perennially proposed expanding to the detriment of all other aspects of the department's duties. In Houston, because of past scandals, the crime lab has already been taken away from the police department's purview, so at his new gig Chief Acevedo thankfully will be relieved of that responsibility. But the team he left behind in Austin must immediately shift its focus to all the non-patrol duties which have been neglected for so many years. That of necessity starts with the crime lab, and particularly the DNA division, but if it ends there, more such land mines will explode in the future. All the department's civilian support functions - from crime-scene techs to victim-support specialists - have for years been relegated to the back of the budget line.
Finally, the Austin DNA lab imbroglio arguably represents the nadir of Forensic Science Commission effectiveness, though this year they've worked doubletime playing catchup. Grits has praised the FSC when they do good work, but a bunch of these issues were raised in 2010 by Cecily Hamilton about the Austin lab and the FSC investigation gave them a pass. Recent events corroborate Hamilton's charges and seriously call into question whether the FSC adequately investigated them.
MORE: The Statesman reports that Austin is no longer even trying to reopen its DNA lab.