HPD Responds to Final Crime Lab Report

Nearly fiver years after problems in the Houston Police Department Crime Lab surfaced, an independent investigation into the lab is complete. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, the final report found significant improvements over the past few years and recommends continued stringent oversight.

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The City appointed independent investigator Michael Bromwich to audit and assess the Houston Police Department Crime Lab. Bromwich says his final report shows there was an almost total lack of quality control in the lab prior to 2003.

"We found that there was a lack of support and a lack of resources to the lab in general and for serology and DNA in particular. We found that, at that time this is all pre-2003, there was ineffective management and the highest levels of the lab and in the key section of DNA and serology."

The report says the lab was almost completely isolated from the rest of HPD and from the outside world. Bromwich and his team of investigators also examined the current state of the reopened lab. HPD recently received national accreditation after significant overhauls in staff, facilities and equipment. Bromwich says it's important to note HPD made enormous strides and the new lab bears little resemblance to the one of the past.

"Our most significant concern is that the increased funding and attention that have been experienced by the crime lab over the last three and a half years will diminish over time. That the investment of resources that is so vital to keeping the lab functioning at the level that the citizens of Houston have a right to expect -- that that will flag over time."

Houston Mayor Bill White joined HPD Chief Harold Hurtt with a response to the final recommendations of the report. White says the department can't neglect the work that goes on outside the public eye.

"The final paragraph of the conclusion expresses a hope by the independent investigator that the lessons not be lost and we not short-change the crime lab in the future. We won't."

White says in the future HPD should consider publishing a breakdown of the budget so the public can see how much money is being dedicated to the lab. Another recommendation was for the department to hire a special master to oversee about 180 serology cases that still need to be reviewed. HPD Chief Harold Hurtt says he doesn't think that's necessary.

"We think that with our work within the Houston Police Department, the DA's office as well as the courts including the appelate courts, we're able to look at what cases that are necessary and feel comfortable that we have had the correct procedure."

District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal says his office is already examining those 180 cases to see if there is any indication of wrongful conviction. He could not say how many of those cases might have to be retested. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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