Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt said he appreciated the efforts of the Independent Investigator into the operations of the Crime Laboratory and Property Room and noted most of the recommendations from the investigator are being addressed or have been addressed by the police department.
The independent investigator looked at the following disciplines, which comprise the entire Crime Lab:
· Controlled Substances
· Question Documents
· Trace Evidence
· Biology (which includes DNA section)
It’s important to note the actions and steps already taken by the department in overcoming some of the deficiencies. Those include:
· Increasing the Crime Laboratory budget from about $3.2 million to $7.6 million in fiscal year 2006
· Upgraded equipment
· A comparison microscope
· Two instruments for narcotics analysis
· An instrument for DNA testing
· Several cameras with better technology
· Doubled the training sessions of our scientists from 2002 to date
· Received $3.4 million in grants used for DNA testing, instruments, training and consultants
The HPD reevaluated the pay and benefits to draw competent staff. There has been a complete turnover of the upper management and DNA staff from 2002 to the present and a 50 percent turnover of overall staff. Crime Lab managers established quality control mechanisms, revised standard operating procedures, and initiated and hosted training conferences as a recognized leader in the field. In addition, Crime Lab managers pursued and received accreditation – no small feat, considering the requirements to meet that standard.
We are particularly pleased with the recognition in the final report of all this progress as noted in the executive summary where the investigator states, “Under its current leadership, the Crime Lab has steadily moved in the right direction over the past three and a half years.” The independent investigator also found that the Crime Lab program for reporting and documenting incidents affecting the quality of work performed is vastly superior to past practices.
As we move forward, the Houston Police Department is:
· Providing documents, locating evidence, and shipping evidence to outsource labs on DNA cases where an issue has been raised
· Offering the D.A.’s office our full assistance on referenced cases
· Continuing to work in cooperation with the Project Innocence Group
· Continuing our quarterly meetings with the current stakeholder committee who has agreed to assist us. To that end, we will not be calling upon a special master, but will use the stakeholders to serve in that capacity
· Providing semi annual reports to the Public Safety/Homeland Security Committee
This has been a long process. The problems unearthed were symptoms of a past administration and we’re pleased to reach finality with this independent inquiry. The HPD is committed to putting mechanisms in place to guard the integrity of this process into the future and striving to gain the public’s trust each and every day.