Mistakes at HPD lab leads to review of cases

December 1, 2009 10:19:00 AM PST
There was a major announcement this morning from the Houston Police Department. It could lead to a review of six years worth of cases. A stunning review by a consulting firm found that in at least 53 percent of cases that consultants looked at, the fingerprint lab at the Houston Police Department made mistakes. That discovery has led to an internal affairs investigation.

In a press conference held today, the department announced plans to review every major case from the last six years. That means every murder, every rape, every robbery, every violent attack, to make sure there aren't suspects who got away despite the evidence.

This all began with the half-million dollar audit of the identification section at the Houston Police Department, which includes the latent print unit. The consultant firm hired randomly selected 548 cases from the last three years.

In 53 percent of cases, examiners from that lab unit found that a print was insufficient to examine, when consultants say, in fact, it was sufficient enough to examine. In nine percent of cases, they say those examiners say there was no print there when consultants say there was.

Police Chief Harold Hurtt says that is simply unacceptable.

"We need to determine if there are additional suspects involved in the commission of crimes that were not identified by the initial exam of the evidence," he said.

Because of these developments, a supervisor and two examiners within the unit are now on administrative leave. Another examiner has been relieved of duty and three consultants have come in to take over the work at the lab.

Chief Hurtt says he is not sure how much it will cost to conduct this six year review or how much it will cost to fix the mistakes. He is working to determine that amount. Next week, he is expected to appear before city council to ask them for that money.


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