Stress and Injustice in Overburdened Crime Labs
The clash of state budget deficits and overburdened crime labs can lead to breakdowns in the criminal justice system – causing headaches, delays and increasing the chance of mistakes and misconduct.
are facing shortfalls and backlogs, and law enforcement officers also say the proliferating delays and restrictions on testing mean leads are missed and cold cases go unsolved.
Following a crime lab scandal in which a forensic analyst was caught stealing drugs, the San Francisco Police Department crime lab is slated to get
a boost in funding
. Mayor Gavin Newsom recently slated more than $8 million for the city’s embattled crime lab – seeking to invest in equipment and staffing to clear a backlog of DNA and ballistics tests. District Attorney Kamala Harris responded to the scandal as well, creating a “trial integrity unit” to audit cases involving possible misconduct.
Lab backlogs and disorder can both endanger testing in active cases and compromise evidence preservation. The Innocence Project advocates for
reforms to evidence preservation laws
and practices nationwide, and
several states have made changes
in recent months.
has set a recent example of progress in improving evidence preservation practices. Two years ago, the city hired a private firm to audit its disorganized property room and recommend changes. Now, cameras monitor every move, and the video is audited monthly. Significantly, not even the chief of police has all the codes to pass through every layer of security in the vault.
Although the auditors have analyzed and organized more than 60,000 items in the past two years, there are still over 110,000 more items to sort through, plus an additional 25,000 pieces of ballistic evidence dating to as far back as 1949. The department is encouraged by the progress, but needs another $1 million to continue. Officials say police property storage will ultimately be run by civilians rather than police officers.
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