Regional crime lab considered by city, county

May 24, 2010 3:20:43 PM PDT
From a backlog of cases, to evidence sending the wrong person going to jail, for years, we've been telling you about problems at Houston's crime lab.

We've learned about a new plan that could change that. The Houston Police Department may team up with the Harris County Sheriff's Office to create a regional crime lab.

The Harris County District Attorney says a regional crime lab could be a reality in as soon as six months. It's one where Harris County Sheriff's Office and the Houston Police Department send DNA from crime scenes to be processed.

The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences houses the crime lab where the Harris County Sheriff's Office sends its DNA evidence to be processed.

But it could soon become a regional crime lab.

"The city of Houston has certainly ungraded their crime lab, but again, their choice is: do you put officers on the ground to patrol or do you invest the money in the crime lab?" Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos said.

In past decades, the city's crime lab has been riddled with problems, leading to the retesting of many cases and the exoneration of some who were convicted of crimes.

And the Harris County District Attorney says a regional crime lab would end some of the current problems faced by the City Of Houston's Crime Lab including its inability to identify DNA from skin cells, a process called Touch DNA, among other problems.

"They can do about 50 cases of DNA every month, and they have about 120 cases of DNA coming in every month," Lykos said.

Lykos showed us a breakdown of the proposed initial cost: $500,000 in equipment, another half-million for renovation and build out and $300,000 for software, adding up to $1.3 million.

Rent could run the city about $500,000 a year.

And with a big capital improvement meeting scheduled for June, the district attorney says now is the time to get the city out of the business of DNA.

"We need to have an independent crime lab; that's what the forensic scientific center is," Lykos said.

The Houston Police Department released this statement from Executive Assistant Chief Timothy Oettmeier:

"HPD is currently working to determine what type of working relationship we can have with the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences on how to best process DNA evidence. At this time, both sides are discussing this future project."

ABC13 contacted Mayor Annise Parker's office Monday and was told that Parker previously been supportive of the idea of a regional crime lab.

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