Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pilot collaboration on DNA testing could presage regional Harris County crime lab

The Harris County Commissioners Court is throwing the City of Houston a lifeline when it comes to processing backlogged rape kits, proposing a pilot program that could end up having such evidence tested at a county-run crime lab. Reports the Houston Chronicle ("Harris County lab could help relieve HPD crime lab," June 21):
Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack said he would like city officials to move quicker on developing a regional crime lab and treat DNA testing as a priority. 

"I think it's time for the city to take its head out of its holster and understand the horrible problem that is present in the city and for that matter in the region when it comes to having the ability to quickly process evidence such as rape kits that, at this time, the city at times takes years to process," he said. "Victims of crimes deserve more than the city is willing to offer."
Voters already approved bonds to construct a new lab, reports the Chronicle: "In 2007, Harris County voters approved $80 million in bond funds for the building of a new forensics facility, allowing officials to begin developing plans to expand the institute, formerly the medical examiner's office." However, the county anticipates having sufficient facilities by next year to handle all of HPD's DNA testing. Until then, the pilot would start small, but the aim would be consolidating DNA testing in the Harris County lab down the line:
Harris County officials are forging ahead with plans for a regional crime laboratory beginning with a pilot program that would allow their lab to take on some of the Houston Police Department's DNA testing.

Under the proposed pilot program, which is set to go for approval before Commissioner's Court on Tuesday morning, the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences would receive, process and report on HPD sexual assault cases requiring DNA testing. The caseload would be limited to 25 cases for every two months of the program's duration.

Unlike the HPD crime lab, which has thousands of sexual assault cases awaiting testing, the county lab has no backlog, according to officials. If the program succeeds, it could spur steps to allow the county to take on all of HPD's DNA testing needs.

"The integration of the city's DNA caseload with ours will be the first step, a first building block for future incremental expansion," the institute's Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Luis Sanchez said in a prepared statement.
The HPD crime lab has been so dysfunctional for so long, this is surely a good, if minimalist first step and I hope the city goes along with it. Whether bureaucratic turf fights or feuds over funding keep a full merger from eventually happening is anybody's guess, but particularly given the City of Houston's current budget crisis, it seems unlikely HPD will solve the problem on its own without such regional collaboration.

See related Grits posts:


DEWEY said...

How can they prosecute if the rape kit isn't tested and used as evidence?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Dewey, all that's required for a conviction is the victim's testimony.

rodsmith said...

how true grits! i've seen convictions for rape when it was proven the so-called victim was still a virgin!

rodsmith said...

how true grits! i've seen convictions for rape when it was proven the so-called victim was still a virgin!

Hook Em Horns said...

Dewey, as Grits said, all you really need for a conviction is testimony and I.D. from the victim. The demand for DNA testing has come from the defense bar here for quite some time for obvious reasons...