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:
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?


Hook Em Horns said...


Anonymous said...

Two items. First, the crime lab generally doesn't handle fingerprints. So should crime labs pick up that responsibility? (Prints and chemical testing are two different worlds). Second, how does anyone think the state budget process will pump more money (and accountability) into the lab process? Especially with the economy the way it is? For accountability just look at how Bradley kidnapped the Forensic Science Commission. :~)

SatichDash said...

Crime lab is of several types it is generally doesn't handle fingerprints. So should crime labs pick up that responsibility or not ?i am waiting for your view.Legitimate Work From Home

Anonymous said...

Just for clarity, some crime labs do handle fingerprints. The Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Officer has a fingerprint section, as does the Fort Worth Police Crime Lab. It is based on the individual lab's choice.

Second, the state budget process is again part of the problem. We can't have faith in this system if we are not willing to give the parties the resources needed to reach a just verdict. Granted, our current governor is doing everything he can to disgrace the system and hold down the truth in the name of his political agenda, but at some point we have to stop throwing our crime labs under the bus and start giving them what they need to find the truth.