Sunday, July 29, 2012

El Paso may close crime lab, outsource controlled substance testing

El Paso PD is having such problems finding a crime lab director that it may shut down its one-person lab performing controlled substance analysis and begin outsourcing the work, according to a draft report presented yesterday to the Forensic Science Commission. (See earlier Grits coverage; for whatever reason, I have seen no other media reports on the FSC probe.)

FSC Chairman Vincent Di Maio wondered if that might not be a good thing, since small labs may not have the oversight or quality assurance controls of bigger facilities. But prosecutor rep Richard Alpert worried that the need to have lab workers available for court appearances could pose a practical problem if El Paso began to outsource because of the town's relative isolation. DPS would like to expand its crime lab facility outside El Paso but needs budget authorization that couldn't come before next year.

Interestingly, part of the problems at the El Paso lab (which as of this spring has supposedly been resolved) stemmed from their reliance on UTEP for technical assistance when the lab was established. The lab was using a device that's more commonly applied in university research settings than for forensic drug analysis, so their results couldn't be easily cross-checked with other labs. Given recent events surrounding the Criminal Justice Program at UT El Paso, Grits would like to learn more about the backstory to UTEP's involvement in the El Paso PD's crime lab woes.

UPDATE: A knowledgeable source informs Grits that rather than outsource per se, El Paso is considering "insourcing" (I know, it seems a bit like hair splitting), i.e., paying for a private lab to operate on their premises - probably Integrated Forensic Labs, out of Euless, whose director Ron Fazio is presently serving as interim director of the El Paso lab. If that happens, the current analyst - who is an EPPD police officer - would be transferred to other duties and an employee of the private lab would take his place.

No comments: