Wednesday, October 04, 2017

In favor of an independent crime lab for Austin

Grits contributing writer Jennifer Laurin made the case today in the Austin Statesman that Austin PD should spin off its crime lab as an independent entity like Houston did.

That was a central recommendation of the 2009 National Academy of Sciences report and is long overdue. After the fiasco with their DNA lab, you'd think APD would be anxious to take the crime lab off their plate.


Steven Michael Seys said...

You already pointed out the reason why a forensic lab ought to be independent from the police. The street gang mentality of most LEOs today is what drives otherwise decent officers to defend and support the indefensible and unsupportable actions of the few bad cops who break the public trust. Once a scientist becomes part of the team, science goes out with the trash, and junk results become the norm, leading to multiple false convictions.

Anonymous said...

It's really the mentality of the forensic analysts that needs changing. There are too many "old school" forensic analysts that are unwilling to admit that they were using poor techniques and unproven methods for deriving conclusions. They are unwilling to re-visit past analyses given new information. They are unwilling to admit mistakes, or admit that their work-product is questionable, or that they possibly contributed to wrongful convictions.

The APD Crime Lab's problem, as far as I can tell, wasn't that the cops were directing the science. It was the fact that the scientists were not willing to admit they didn't know what they were doing. The 2002 Houston Police Dept Crime Lab, too, wasn't skewing the conclusions for the cops, they were improperly (or under-) trained. In both crime labs, the bench analysts knew they weren't fully competent, but the "old school" predecessors (lab directors, managers, supervisors) weren't willing to accept scrutiny.

Anonymous said...

Doc shops (Medical Examiner Labs) are worse than cop shops (police labs). Medical Examiners know nothing about physical evidence, make terrible managers (look at employee turnover rates) and are more concerned with formaldehyde costs than implementing new crime lab technologies.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:00, I fully agree but some people like to invent reasons that don't exist, the Steven's of the world knowing full well they can't prove any of their beliefs, the facts dispelling their imaginative narrative. It's a shame that the average voter refuses to provide such facilities with the funding needed for proper training and staff but that is true for many things they just don't understand.

Anonymous said...


Actually, you can find proof that it happens. LEO/Investigators/Prosecutors often have email addresses or work phone numbers of the forensic analysts. They communicate regularly when evidence for a case is being analyzed, and the communications are documented. Often, within these communications one can find extraneous information provided by the LEO that is wholly unnecessary for scientific testing, but may play on the emotions or passions of the analyst. And an analyst who is a team player may analyze the same item several time over until he/she "finds" the incriminating evidence.

"This old intoxicated man was last seen with the little girl holding her hand. Therefore after a day of heavy drinking he probably molested the defenseless child, and we need to get him behind bars before he rapes or perhaps murders another little innocent girl." (Just an example of a seemingly innocuous email statement from the investigator.)

Need a real life example? see Annie Dookhan.

It's not an invented reason or an imaginary narrative. You just lack the imagination to identify the narrative. You should be thanking the Steven's of the World for thinking outside the box.

Anonymous said...

Cognitive bias is indeed a big, big deal in lab work.
One example; Seeing a suspect's environment/vehicle prior to working the evidence is dangerous.
This happens to all lab people, regardless of whether the lab affiliation is ME, police or private. It appears labs are making progress in isolating workers from the rest of the world.
Ex-lab guy