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Where does the crime lab go from here?

Now that there’s a plan in place to clear the longstanding crime lab backlog, the question is what should we expect from the crime lab going forward?

Scott Hochberg

“It’s sort of hard to build a house when you’re trying to dig yourself out of a hole,” said Scott Hochberg, chairman of the Houston Forensic Science Local Government Corp., a nine-member independent-appointed board formed by Mayor Annise Parker last year to take over the city’s forensic operations from Houston Police Department. “So getting back to ground level is a good place to start.”

Police officials are optimistic that by the time backlog testing is completed, in an estimated 14 months, control of the city’s forensic testing will largely fall under LGC authority, rather than HPD. Whether more property crimes – which accounted for just 3 percent of evidence the crime lab tested over the last two years – will be included will likely be the decision of the board, said HPD Executive Assistant Chief Timothy Oettmeier.

“We’d like to be in a position to look at the LGC and say ‘You know what, because we got rid of this humongous backlog that maybe we’ve got enough capacity to start processing some of that stuff,’‚ÄČ” said Oettmeier, emphasizing that HPD will only play a supporting role for recommendations in crime lab functions once the LGC takes over.

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The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, which serves 37 area law enforcement agencies, has been testing touch DNA in property crimes cases. When testing for touch DNA, the forensics institute has a 70 to 75 percent success rate for matches to crime suspects in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, a national database used to store DNA profiles, said agency spokeswoman Tricia Bentley.

Oettmeier said collection of touch DNA is contingent upon the number of crime scene unit personnel on staff to gather evidence. He said crime evidence collection is another part of forensics that HPD would like to hand over to crime lab.

“It’s unfortunate that we aren’t farther along in this area than we should be,” Oettmeier said. “But we’ve been carrying around this anchor with all of these problems for so long that we finally have a break and we’re going to take advantage of that.”

See here and here for more about the Houston Forensic Science Local Government Corporation (LGC). I too would like to see more done with property crime cases, including “touch DNA” testing. I also think moving crime evidence collection under the auspices of the LGC and away from HPD makes sense. What would you add to this that isn’t in the story?

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