DNA Lab to Reopen?
Council will consider a plan to hand over APD's lab to DPS
By Sarah Marloff,
2:00PM, Thu. Mar. 16, 2017
The Statesman reported Wednesday that Austin Police officials are readying an agreement with the Department of Public Safety that would reopen APD’s crime lab after nearly a year of inactivity.
Under the terms, the city would pay DPS $800,000 annually for the next five years to manage the renamed Department of Public Safety Capital Area Regional Lab, with that branch (DPS has another lab in Austin at 5800 Guadalupe) working exclusively on APD cases. City Council will vote on the proposal at its next meeting on Thursday, March 23. If passed, the agreement will go into effect immediately. Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore has expressed support for the deal: She penned a letter to Mayor Steve Adler (cc’ing the city manager’s office, members of City Council, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, and county commissioners) urging that Council approve what she called an “interim solution.”
Council on Thursday also has plans to consider a second agreement that would (a) bring in an expert consultant to address the FSC’s recommendations and “evaluate the impact of the findings to DNA evidence” in criminal cases, and (b) begin work with the Capital Area Private Defenders Service to review DNA evidence processed by the lab and used to secure convictions to determine if any closed cases are in need of further review. (More than 2,000 convicted individuals have been informed that their cases may require further review as a result of the lab’s failures.) It’s an interlocal agreement, with the city responsible for the first piece and Travis County overseeing the second. The proposal seeks authority to spend $353,406 of the unused $1.4 million that would have gone toward funding APD lab analysts had the lab not been shut down and removed from APD purview.
According to Moore, the two agreements are related. DPS maintaining lab oversight “could end up being the long-term solution,” she told the Chronicle. “But until we hear back from experts [on the best practices going forward] we won't come to an agreement. It’s very possible this could be the ultimate arrangement, but I think it’s very important that we consider the expert opinions.”
Moore also commended APD Interim Chief Brian Manley for his dedication to expeditiously resolving the lab issue. “He’s responsible for getting us this far this quickly,” she said.
APD shut its lab down last June after the Texas Forensic Science Commission revealed a series of below-board practices, including outdated testing procedures and inadequately trained staff. The department has accumulated a hefty backlog of untested evidence. Assistant Chief Troy Gay told the Chronicle on Thursday that he expects the sexual assault kits in the backlog to be fully tested by April 2018 (with the 900 other cases taking an additional six to nine months after that), thanks to the help of DPS and several pending contracts with private laboratories.