Parker wants to make the lab independent of HPD and the city, overseen instead by a local government board similar to the Port of Houston Authority, whose members are jointly appointed by the city, county and other local municipalities. Mayoral spokeswoman Janice Evans said a proposal may come before City Council this spring.
County leaders say their Institute of Forensic Sciences already is independent, free from law enforcement influence. They point to its respected work and lack of a case backlog.
Parker, however, said the city lab’s future is not with Harris County.
“The area that I’m in control of is to have an independent crime lab,” the mayor said Wednesday. “If that can become a regional crime lab where the county is a full participant, I’d love to see that happen. Sending all our work over to Harris County simply substitutes one government master for another government master.”
County Judge Ed Emmett said the apparent disagreement seems to be a concern over “whose name is on the door,” and said he hopes that can be overcome.
“This is a perfect opportunity to consolidate a government service,” Emmett declared. “If they want to go off and duplicate services by creating it somewhere else – fine, but we’re going to move forward with a world-class Institute of Forensic Sciences.”
I’m not sure I understand this. I can see where the Mayor is coming from, and if her belief is that the city would be more of a tenant to the county in the Institute of Forensic Sciences than a partner with them then her reluctance makes some sense, but I think Judge Emmett makes a strong point. If this boils down to an issue of governance, it’s worth trying to work out. If it’s more fundamental than that, then I’ll need to learn more about what the city’s vision is, and how much it will cost compared to what we’re doing now and what we could be doing with the IFS.
Then there’s the city’s jail, which have had their own problems of late.
Parker said the city jails could be phased out even without the type of joint processing center that bond voters rejected in 2007.
The city is negotiating to buy a property that would be used a “sobering center” to divert some inmates from the jail.
“If someone just needs a place to sleep it off, sober up, maybe get connected to some social-service help, we think we can accommodate that,” Parker said.
Services, Evans said, could include help for the mentally ill, whom Parker said also must be diverted from jail. Such steps could reduce the city jail population enough to allow the remaining inmates to be handed to the county, the mayor said.
Keeping the mentally ill out of jail has long been a topic of discussion at the county, Emmett said, but the problem likely will take an expensive facility to solve.
I like this idea, though we’ll have to see what a “sobering center” is and how it differs in function and cost from the jail. Philosophically, it’s the right direction, as is the principle of diverting the mentally ill from the jail to other facilities that can actually help them. Whether it truly requires an “expensive facility” or not remains to be seen, but I think this has a decent chance of being a viable alternative to that. Grits has more.