How much will it cost to fix fingerprint problem?

December 9, 2009 4:23:39 PM PST
City leaders are tackling the problems with HDP's fingerprint lab. A critique of the lab found inadequate training, staffing and funding. A random review of cases found technicians often thought fingerprints weren't good enough to provide identification when they clearly were. On Wednesday, Houston City Council discussed the problems and how to fix them. A solution could cost millions.

There is no debate that the Houston Police Department's fingerprint lab has problems, but now the question is how to fix it and how much it will cost.

If the ongoing problems with the Houston Police Department's latent prints lab were enough to get you mad, what made council members even more angry was the request by HPD for $4 million to try and fix the problem.

"We found it over and over and over again," said Councilmember Pam Holm. "To say we're going do better, and to throw money at it make it better."

"This is a tough economic time, " added Councilmember Jolanda Jones. "These tax dollars are precious."

On Wednesday, council members delayed approving the $4 million funding request, but not before passing an amendment that slashed the request to just over $2.5 million. But former police officer turned elected official Ed Gonzalez warned any delay could cause even more problems.

"I see it as a public emergency. We need to get this get on this quickly and address it," he said.

The $2.5 million budget, if passed, would ensure one year of ongoing operations at the fingerprint lab. But it also put the burden of additional funding in the hands of a new mayor and city council, something the current mayor says he's willing to do as long as the investigation into what went wrong at the crime lab continues without a delay.

"There's been no evidence that somebody has been unfairly convicted based on fingerprint evidence," said Houston Mayor Bill White. "But we're concerned that if there was evidence on fingerprints, we find the perpetrator of a crime."

The audit was first released last week. It suggested hiring consultants, training employees, and meeting proper industry standards. In the wake of the release, three lab employees were relieved of duty with pay.


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