It’s officially called the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences’ Forensic Genetics Laboratory. It is located in an industrial space that once housed a cookie factory along Holcombe in the Texas Medical Center’s historic John P. McGovern complex. The long 16,000 square-foot space is already being used.
Outgoing Harris County DA Pat Lykos was one elected official who made sure it was built.
“The lab is independent and it serves the region. Our Institute of Forensic Science has no backlog in the testing of rape kits, no backlog in the testing of rape kits”
The light, spacious and modern interior looks a lot like what you’d see on a television crime drama.
Dr Roger Kahn is director of forensic genetics for Harris County. He says up until now, the lab had a small staff of dedicated scientists who had trouble keeping up with the backlog of cases and with a long turnaround time.
“By 2011, the Forensic Genetics lab served 37 agencies within Harris County, and completed 3,382 cases while maintaining no backlog. Our output of more than 3,000 cases makes us one of the most productive DNA labs, not only in Texas, but in the entire country.”
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says the new facility is big enough to be shared by other entities.
“If we have a state of the art facility, and we can find a way to work together, then by all means, that saves the taxpayers a lot of money. And at the end, it’s even not about money. At the end, this is really using forensic science in the pursuit of justice, to convict those who are guilty, and to exonerate those who are innocent. And it needs to be just neutral if you will, in terms of its approach.”
Earlier this year, the county approved spending $7 million dollars for the facility.
At Houston City Hall, Mayor Annise Parker was asked if the city and county crime labs would ever become one.
“We deserve all of us, a deliberate process, to make sure that any kind of merger is smooth and transparent, and it ultimately gets to justice on the other end, so that the crime labs and the other forensic activities, have no ties to the police, no ties to the prosecution, and they’re not run by political appointees.”
Mayor Parker would like to remove the city’s crime lab from the Houston Police Department and place it under an appointed board.