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Daniel Garner

More on the new Crime Lab boss

Meet Dr. Daniel Garner, the CEO and president of the Houston Forensic Science Center.

Dr. Daniel Garner

Daniel Garner was ready to drift quietly into retirement after decades on the forefront in the field of forensic science.

The last part of his career had the 66-year-old on the go, traveling to foreign countries for the U.S. Department of Justice, helping to revamp struggling crime labs, sometimes in nations enduring political and economic hardships. Just on the short list, Garner helped build a crime lab in Kosovo from scratch, trained more than 1,000 forensic experts in Colombia in how to properly present evidence in court and helped make improvements in the Sri Lankan forensic laboratory that gained it an international accreditation.

While the work was rewarding, it was also hectic. Often he traveled in armed security details, had to undergo vaccinations and dealt with foreign authorities who searched his hotel room, suspicious of his visit to their country.

So when he gave his notice in 2012, he was ready to go.

He and his wife left Washington, D.C., for a small town on the outer banks of North Carolina. The couple started shopping for a home, preferably one near the river that would be perfect for a small pier. Garner imagined relaxing on the deck of his bobbing sailboat and taking in the local galleries during the town’s art walks.

Then, just months into his retirement, Garner was lured back to work as director of the Houston Forensic Science Center, the reincarnation of the once-beleaguered Houston Police Department crime lab.

The new lab is based on a concept that seems simple, but is revolutionary in the field: the lab will operate independently of law enforcement. If the model succeeds, Garner said, it could be a blueprint for crime labs across the country, letting labs operate with greater independence and away from the shadow of law enforcement influence.

“I know there are a lot of people watching Houston to see how this works,” he said. “It’s an extremely unique model and I wanted to be apart of it.”

Dr. Garner was hired a year ago to direct the HFSC, but as far as I know this is the first real story about his experience and background. He’s got an impressive resume, that’s for sure. I have a lot of hope for this project, so it’s good to know it’s in good hands.

Meet the new Crime Lab boss

He sounds impressive.

The fuzzy process of shifting the city of Houston’s crime lab from the Houston Police Department to an independent board got a little clearer Wednesday with the hiring of a president and CEO for the new operation.

The appointed board of the city’s year-old forensic science corporation selected Dr. Daniel Garner after a six-month search. Garner, whose hiring was announced at a press conference Wednesday, is coming off a U.S. Department of Justice effort to improve global forensics that took him to labs in 30 countries on five continents. He formerly was president of Cellmark Diagnostics Inc. and managed the forensics lab for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

“Dr. Garner is assessing what our needs are. There are areas in the lab that are centers of excellence. There are other areas in forensics that need some work, frankly,” said Scott Hochberg, who chairs the city forensics board. “We need to identify those and appropriate the budget to those. We’re looking forward to moving forward with creating the best municipal crime lab and regional crime lab in the country.”

Next, Hochberg said, Garner will hire three supporting managers and the board will continue figuring out how legally to make the transition from the police department.

See here and here for some background. The Houston Forensic Science Local Government Corporation has been moving in a positive direction since its creation, and this looks like another good step. I’m eager to see how they ultimately operate. In the meantime, we got a little bit more information about the long-discussed but so far not proposed possibility of the city and the county joining forces:

[Mayor Annise] Parker has said the city lab must make more progress before merger talks, and has said the county lab is not sufficiently independent of the Harris County Commissioners Court or the District Attorney’s Office.

Commissioners Court members have said they set the institute’s budget, but that it answers to its accrediting agencies, not the court. The sooner the city expresses an interest in joining, county officials have said, the better; the county is designing its new forensics tower.

“We’re in very fruitful discussions with Harris County about a joint (inmate) processing center; we are working closely on everything from Buffalo Bayou to building new libraries,” Parker said Wednesday. “I don’t think this will be any different. When we determine it makes financial and logistical sense to work together, we will do that, but I can’t give you a timeline.”

Well, at least they’re talking. Relations between the city and the county have never been better, so if this is going to happen, sometime soon would be nice.