D.A. Says City Needs Bigger DNA Lab

Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos says the Houston Police Department’s DNA Lab is unable to keep up with current demands. Lykos says there’s such a backlog right now that a bigger temporary facility is needed in order to catch up. Bill Stamps has more.

Running a high-tech crime lab full of DNA experts can be expensive. Harris County D.A. Pat Lykos says that problem leads to some tough choices by police departments.

“Every single metropolitan area in the United States of America has a horrendous backlog. Police departments have to make the hard choice: do you put resources into a crime lab, or do you put officers on the streets?”

But once those officers make arrests and take evidence from crime scenes, they rely on the forensic experts to do their jobs. And when it comes to DNA examiners, Lykos says there’s just not enough of them on the Houston payroll.

“The fact of the matter is that the City of Houston has a backlog of 4-5 thousand rape kits and their backlog grows by about 75 a month. So, you see public safety and the integrity of the justice system is endangered by the lack of scientific capacity.”

Long-range plans call for a regional crime lab that would be a campus housing the county’s medical examiner and DNA crime lab. But with the city’s backlog growing worse each month, Lykos suggests the city and county lease a facility in the Medical Center in a temporary joint venture.

Houston Attorney Bob Wicoff believes removing the lab from the police department is the right way to go.

“It takes it out of the police department where there’s at least the danger of the scientist working in a non-neutral environment. That is that they may know more about the case than you would want a scientist to know so that the results may be skewed, even unconsciously. I also think it just gives the appearance of a more neutral crime lab if you have it removed from all law enforcement agencies.”

Mayor Parker says she’d like to work with county on such a venture, but like most things it comes down to money. For now, representatives from both sides are said to be discussing the issue.

Bill Stamps, KUHF News.