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Thursday, March 3, 2005

Panel Rejects Houston Police Department's Crime Lab Accreditation

The Houston Police Department ("HPD") was trying to gain accreditation by the end of February for all divisions of its crime lab except the still-closed DNA division, but a national panel denied the lab of national certification.  (The divisions the HPD sought to have accredited were the biology, toxicology, controlled substances, firearms and document-verification divisions.  The DNA division has been closed since 2002 for evidence-contamination and incompetent training).  The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors ("ASCLD") met with the HPD crime lab director Irma Rios, and was told that auditors found that the lab did not practice proper chain-of-custody recording procedures to ensure the integrity of evidence.  ASCLD's executive director Ralph Keaton wouldn't reveal the lab's specific flaws, but did report that the ASCLD requires "a documented, unbroken chain of custody of all evidence in the laboratory...(including) a documented record, either hard copy or electronic, of all person-to-person and person-to-places transfers at the time of the transfer," and the HPD's lab fell short of that standard.  The HPD will reapply in 90 days, but in the meantime, state legislatures are doubtful of the HPD's ability to run its own lab.  "It's two years later and they still can't get accredited," said Texas State Rep. Kevin Bailey (D-Houston). "You don't see any real evidence that they're making a whole lot of progress."  On March 1, Bailey and Robert Talton (R-Pasadena) filed a bill to establish regional DNA crime labs to be overseen by the Texas Department of Public Safety, rather than police departments. More from the HoustonChronicle.com... [Mark Godsey]

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