Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Will Houston get a new crime lab next year?

From KHOU.com: "After years of scandal, the police department will no longer run Houston’s crime lab, Mayor Annise Parker said Wednesday.

The promise is among the initiatives she will elaborate on next week during her inauguration speech. Parker was reelected in November and will begin her second term in January.

But during an interview Wednesday with KHOU 11 News, Parker stressed that the city would have an "independent" crime lab by the end of 2012.

Since 2002, HPD has faced criticism for thousands of untested rape kits and other mismanaged evidence.

Though the lab has improved in the last few years, Parker said, "it’s as much about perception as reality."

Currently, the lab is downtown at police headquarters in the 1200 block of Travis. The mayor is still deciding where the new one would be located and how much it would cost.

"This is not at all an effort to save money," Parker said. "This is about an effort to achieve objective justice. And when you consider that longstanding problems in the crime lab have cost the City of Houston millions and millions of dollars to fix, this is not something where we can cheap out."

There’s long been talk of a regional crime lab – an option Parker said she preferred—but the city and the county haven’t agreed on how to pay for it.

In the meantime, Parker said the current space within HPD was "inadequate."

Parker said there was a possibility the city and the county could share a location in the future. But even if a deal was reached, she said, the integration would need to be phased in over several years since the county couldn’t handle all of the city’s caseload right away.

"I can have an independent crime lab while we still work toward a regional crime lab," Parker said. "I believe it ought to report to a board of nonaffiliated scientists, who can make sure that the lab does objective work."

But critics are skeptical of whether any appointed board would be objective.

"Just because it’s out from underneath HPD does not mean it’s independent," said Randall Kallinen, an outspoken civil rights attorney. "It would also have to be free from Houston government as well to be truly independent."


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