Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Houston's budget busting police budget, crime lab glitches in Dallas, and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends to clear Grits' browser tabs of items which deserve readers' attention, even if I haven't gotten around to blogging about them:

Crime lab DNA glitches delaying Dallas cases
In Dallas, reported WFAA, a capital murder case was delayed "because of a recent issue with county’s new DNA testing kits, which proved to be defective. The county crime lab suspended DNA testing in cases set for trial. The lab plans to restart testing in September with new testing kits."

Most Twin Peaks biker cases soon to be dismissed
Special prosecutors in the Twin Peaks biker cases in McLennan County dismissed one high-profile case, reported the Waco Tribune Herald, with many more likely to come soon:
In a status conference Friday, Assistant District Attorney Amanda Dillon told Judge Ralph Strother that the DA’s office likely will dismiss all but 25 to 30 cases during a re-evaluation of the Twin Peaks cases. Many of those dismissals could come this week, she said.
What a mess! County officials should get ready for a wave of civil litigation and start socking away money for a fat settlement. Thanks, Abel Reyna! BTW, Tommy Witherspoon at the Tribune-Herald is an old-school courthouse reporter of the highest order and a Texas state treasure. Though state and national media mostly neglected the story (frankly, because nobody wants to go to Waco), his coverage has been consistent and consistently amazing. Whoever hands out journalism awards needs to give him a few.

Email: Prosecutor in Alfred Brown case knew of withheld evidence
In Harris County, prosecutor Dan Rizzo allegedly perjured himself about exculpatory evidence withheld from the defense in Alfred Brown's capital murder trial, Houston Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg reported. He denies it, but an email was discovered proving he knew of phone records he said he'd never received (later found in a police officer's garage, leading to the re-opening of Brown's case in 2015). The local defense bar at one point suggested Rizzo to be prosecuted for attempted murder (!), and calls for stripping his bar license have already begun. Rizzo could be the first Texas prosecutor not long-since retired from the job (a la Anderson and Sebesta) to lose his license over prosecutorial misconduct.

Houston's budget busting police budget
Mayor Sylvester Turner wants voters to bust the city's revenue cap to pay for public safety. However, we're at a moment in history when crime is at historic lows and the demands on law enforcement are rapidly evolving. Just hiring more warm bodies to throw at an endless stream of 911 calls and false burglar alarms on patrol wouldn't be worth it. Rather, investments in the civilian side - crime labs, crime-scene techs, evidence management, etc. - make a lot more sense. When Houston's chief, Art Acevedo, was in Austin, he focused almost exclusively on bolstering patrol in his budget requests while our crime lab failed under his watch and all civilian functions basically withered on the vine. Houston shouldn't make the same mistake.

PEP a reentry model
In a Dallas Morning News op ed, a Prison Entrepreneurship Program alum touts its reentry benefits. The Lege would do well to identify what they're doing that's working (especially the reentry supports) and scale up!

What happens when you cut prison spending without reducing prisoner numbers?
A feature in USA Today explored the relationship between corrections budget cuts and prison riots.

District Attorneys behaving badly
Two stories from other states that may give our Texas reporters some good ideas: 1) The Marshall Project has a feature on how the DA in Manhattan prosecutes the poor, and 2) the Nashville Scene has a story about how their DA's Association killed drug-reform legislation in Tennessee - not because they opposed the policy but because they didn't get extra resources they wanted in exchange for going along with it. See also related recent coverage about prosecutor associations' regressive lobbying activities from Josie Duffy Rice at In Justice Today.

The Great US Crime Decline
Check out a CNN segment featuring Fareed Zakharia and Adam Gopnik on the Great US Crime Decline.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

'Tommy Witherspoon at the Tribune-Herald is an old-school courthouse reporter of the highest order and a Texas state treasure. Though state and national media mostly neglected the story (frankly, because nobody wants to go to Waco), his coverage has been consistent and consistently amazing. Whoever hands out journalism awards needs to give him a few."

Tommy's work should be nominated for a Pulitzer for local news reporting.

Anonymous said...

"Mayor Sylvester Turner wants voters to bust the city's revenue cap to pay for public safety. However, we're at a moment in history when crime is at historic lows and the demands on law enforcement are rapidly evolving. Just hiring more warm bodies to throw at an endless stream of 911 calls and false burglar alarms on patrol wouldn't be worth it. Rather, investments in the civilian side - crime labs, crime-scene techs, evidence management, etc. - make a lot more sense. When Houston's chief, Art Acevedo, was in Austin, he focused almost exclusively on bolstering patrol in his budget requests while our crime lab failed under his watch and all civilian functions basically withered on the vine. Houston shouldn't make the same mistake."

What Mayor Turner and Police Chief Acevedo would do with the extra manpower is an important factor in presenting this to voters but given the manner in which they prioritize existing manpower, someone they would listen to needs to step up and confront them with the facts. It's a fact that HPD is exiting the jailing business, freeing up a lot of manpower as the county assumes control via the new processing complex. It's also a fact that HPD no longer makes thousands of arrests for low level pot use, also freeing up a great deal of hours. Acevedo pushes his community policing model but most of his commanders and command staff do not believe in it outside his presence or that of the cameras/press, the more cops sent to public relations endeavors means those answering the calls have to cut corners. Just look at how frequently Acevedo is on social media promoting himself as much as anything else, didn't the city fire Darien Ward for something very similar?

What needs to happen before any revenue cap removal, is demanding a complete overhaul of prioritization using a best possible practices approach, some of that would be inclusive of Grits' suggestions but given the police department is already the largest budget item by far, "more people" is not the answer to long term problems. There are so many possibilities of getting more bang for the buck than just hiring more police that it would take a series of books to explain, programs to keep kids out of trouble in the first place are cheap by comparison as one example.

Anonymous said...

Concerning the Prosecutor Rizzo, that withheld exculpatory evidence. These prosecutors that do such things, need to be held more accountable than just losing their position/bar licence. I feel they should get the same sentence they helped to dole out to an alleged defendant. If it happens to be the death penalty then so be it. Same should go for any judge or cop, hold them massively accountable for their corrupt actions. I would bet we'd have alot more straight and narrow officials.

wolf sittler said...

Any jurisdiction that emphasizes hiring more police to deal with crime should remember that such strategy is like creating more cemeteries to deal with a deadly plague. Sorely lacking is a more pro-active approach that prioritizes prevention.......that's the way, in the long run, to make our communities safer, lower the prison population, and lessen the burdens on taxpayers.

Savage L. said...

re: Crime lab DNA glitches delaying Dallas cases

How many other DNA testing labs could the Prosecutors have used? There are 14-15 accredited labs in Texas. Unless...

Unless the Dallas Crime Lab has the magical ability to get a DNA 'match' to the defendant and the Prosecution needs the conjuring.

Something doesn't smell right.

Sandrine said...

DNA lab issue in Dallas, the article about the case you mention is from July 2017... https://www.wfaa.com/article/news/local/dallas-county/dna-not-sent-for-testing-judge-orders-release-of-two-capital-murder-suspects/454181113

Anonymous said...

@Sadnrine-

Did the Forensic Science Commission perform an investigation? Where is their report?

Anonymous said...

Houston's Mayor and police chief are pushing hard for more manpower despite the newly proposed budget providing none. The chief, formerly of Austin PD, is pulling inaccurate numbers out of nowhere to support his demands for in excess of 2000 additional officers, none of the local media calling him out on it.

Sandrine said...

@5/05/2018 Anon-

Just prior to the issues with the Dallas County DNA Lab, APD agreed to a $1.6 million contract with Dallas County after the APD shuttered it's own DNA lab. With the problems in the Dallas County DNA Lab, is the contract null and void? $1.6 million is a lot of incentive to forgo any investigation by the Forensic Science Commission, especially since the Director of the Dallas County Crime Lab (Dr. Barnard) is the Chair of the FSC. Any investigation by the FSC would expose the conflict of interest by Dr. Barnard to the public, and possibly reveal the inadequacies of the Dallas Crime Lab.

It certainly does smell, Savage L.

Austin leaders weigh agreement with Dallas County to test rape kits
https://www.mystatesman.com/news/local/austin-leaders-weigh-agreement-with-dallas-county-test-rape-kits/uDOFblCae26i0iYzmqDXwO/

Anonymous said...

AMEN!!!!!����

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, all of these so-called "DNA Labs" that test evidence for the police or prosecutors, are most of the time, GOING TO COME BACK with a match to an alleged perpetrator. The Labs know if they provide the 'right' answer, they'll have more work thrown their way by the police and prosecutors. Which equals lots of $$$ for the Labs.