Houston Creates Independent Crime Lab

Houston's crime lab has been a newsmaker for many years. Problems included a backlog of rape kits, the quality of test results, mislabeled or misplaced evidence and the list goes on.

"If solving the problems with the crime lab and our overall forensic activities were easy, it would have been done a long time ago."

Houston Mayor Annise Parker says they've made a lot of progress, from overhauling training and procedures to upgrading equipment.

"We have an adequate crime lab and we have repaired the most horrendous problems. I want to have a first class crime lab that is the envy of the United States."

A newly appointed board will now govern the crime lab. State Rep. Scott Hochberg is the new chairman of that nine-member board. Right now, HPD's crime lab is run by Irma Rios and Hochberg says one of the first things the board will do is consider who to hire as director of the newly named Houston Forensic Science Center.

"We will talk early in our discussions about how we go about searching for a director and we'll get that underway as one of the top priorities. Because, frankly, none of us want to act as the director. And I don't know Ms. Rios, but I look forward to meeting her and I see no reason any particular person would not be considered as a candidate."

Hochberg says it's too early in the process to know if any current crime lab employees will lose their jobs or if any staffing changes will be necessary.

All but two of the councilmembers voted for the plan. Councilmember Helena Brown opposed it, calling the move a political stunt. Councilmember Jack Christie also voted no, because he thinks the city shouldn't move forward on an independent lab without participation from Harris County.

"I think there's as much as $20-25 million we can save by doing this together. I've talked really to both sides, to the commissioners and the county judge and the mayor's office, and there's a willingness to do it together but no one's willing to take the first step."

Several councilmembers echoed the hope that the city and county could eventually merge their efforts into a regional lab.

But they said they can't wait the years it might take for that to develop. The new forensic science center will still be funded by the city to the tune of about $23 million a year — that's the current level of funding for HPD forensic services.

The mayor wants council to approval an additional allocation of $5 million this year to address the backlog of evidence that hasn't been analyzed.

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