Monday, July 06, 2015

Harris County suspends DNA testing in property crimes, citing volume

The Harris County crime lab (different from the city crime lab spun off from Houston PD) has suspended touch DNA testing because of volume, reported the Houston Chronicle (July 4).
the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences has sent out a memo to the 69 law enforcement agencies it serves suspending touch DNA analysis due to diminished resources and burgeoning demand.

Officials were forced to temporarily halt the service, ironically, because testing for touch DNA has been so successful.

"We didn't anticipate this remarkable growth and what law enforcement has done to embrace DNA testing services in general," said Dr. Roger Kahn, the forensic institute's crime laboratory director. "We need to reassess our service levels in order to keep up."

The suspension will not affect the Houston Police Department, which relies on the city's crime lab to perform DNA analysis. The Houston Forensic Science Center began performing DNA analysis in some property crime cases after the city cleared HPD's backlog of thousands of rape kits awaiting DNA testing.

But the county crime lab's suspension of the cutting-edge forensic testing, which it took the initiative to offer eight years ago, could impact property crime investigations for dozens of law enforcement agencies.
Here's a graphic from the Chronicle depicting the proportion of DNA testing at the lab attributed to touch DNA in property crimes vs. the total:

FWIW, the folks who "didn't anticipate this remarkable growth" clearly were not blog readers. Grits has been prophesying this conundrum for years, e.g.:
Texas and the larger jurisdictions like Harris County and Houston have invested heavily in new and expanded crime labs in recent years, and it's still not been remotely enough to handle the incoming volume, as evidenced by Harris County's decision to suspend DNA testing for property crimes.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't the county crime lab charge those cities to perform the testing? If they did it for free, I'm sure Houston would benefit by piggybacking on any free services and then focusing on everything else in house. How much does the county charge the smaller cities and maybe they just need to charge a little more.

Phelps said...

I'm all for prioritizing. Clear out the rape and murder cases before dealing with property crimes.

The thing is, we do NEED to get back to the property crimes ASAP, because people don't just start out with violent crimes like rape and robbery. They start out with property crimes. The way we prevent violent crime is by catching the criminals while they are still committing less-confrontational crimes.

Anonymous said...

What makes you think property crimes are precursors to violent crimes, Phelps? The rate of violent crime in the US has generally declined, but property crimes have stayed about the same, no?

Phelps said...

What makes you think property crimes are precursors to violent crimes, Phelps?


Violent offenders had more previous drug and property arrests, more prior convictions and more prior probation sentences than the other offenders did.

This isn't some obscure finding. This is basic criminology, on the order of "increasing demand increases prices" in economics.

Note: This doesn't mean that mass incarceration is the answer. It turns out that incarceration is only responsible for about 5-10% of the crime reduction we've seen in the past 30 years. Identifying people with criminal tendencies, however, get the people into the system, making them easier to rehabilitate (is the criminality a result of a mental injury like prior abuse, is the person a sociopath, it is a substance abuse problem, is it the purely economical I-can't-get-a-job, etc) and if rehabilitation fails, easier to identify.

No one starts out with armed robbery. They start out with burglary and mugging. No one starts out as a serial rapist. They start out burgling houses, which acclimates them to the idea of violating the boundaries of victims. No one starts out as a street-murderer -- they all have a long history of armed robbery and other violent crimes.

Anonymous said...

Property Crimes are considered bullshit crimes that the police blow off as not worth getting out of the car due to a lil thang called - Insurance. But throw in a Deductible that's higher than the cost of the broken or stolen stuff and you just end up not reporting it (or they end up convincing you to not filing a Report) and the crime rate looks like it's down.

The only property crimes they will get out of the car for are those related to a home or business with an Alarm (unless someone is connected or related). Not just any ol Alarm, it has to be one tied to an Alarm Co. (preferably one they have an investment in) with an up to date paid bill. If your property crime isn't covered by a policy the code is - GFY & Have a Good Day.

*I had to lift a set of prints off of a window because the fat-ass cop that rolled out to our property crime scene 4 hours after the call, said that they couldn't do it because they couldn't perform the simple lifting procedure due to dirt & dust. He said that the blood on the sill could be anyone's maybe even a bird or cat. Haven't called the cops for over 15 years and neither do any of the neighbors. Deductibles prevent anyone from claiming petty property crimes, it's cheaper to repair & replace it yourself. Buy a camera or two and catch them in the act and let the cops deal with real crimes.