Moving closer to Houston crime lab

June 6, 2012 3:22:03 PM PDT
Whether it's the backlog of thousands of rape kits or controversial past audits, Houston's crime lab is often in the spotlight, but rarely in a good way. On Wednesday the city council agreed to a drastic change over who is in control of the crime lab.

The city will become the first in the nation to put a non-profit organization in charge of its crime lab. The council approved the measure Wednesday morning. But it came with some disagreement.

The problems of the Houston police crime lab are unfortunately all too well known in Houston, and among our elected officials.

Houston City Councilmember Ellen Cohen said, "We have a problem and we have it now."

After years of talk and behind the scenes negotiations, the city decided to go forward alone, by appointing a nine-member board for an independent crime lab. State Representative Scott Hochberg will lead the team.

"I heard tremendous support," he said. "I know the council and mayor are behind this effort, and will give us the support we need to do our job."

There are tremendous challenges. Building, maintaining and staffing a world-class facility would be hard enough. But the city, for now, is not partnering with Harris County.

When asked why, Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack told me over the phone, "Why would the county want to listen to people who have run a crime lab that's a dismal failure? They obviously don't know what they're doing."

Houston Mayor Annise Parker disagrees, saying the county and the city can, and might eventually, work together.

She said, "This is not insurmountable, but it's not going to be solved with public negotiations in front of the media. It's not something that's going to be solved tomorrow."

With a 16-2 vote at council, it was clear city leaders felt the time for a crime lab untainted by controversy was long overdue.

"How long do we have to wait for justice?" asked Houston City Councilmember Larry Green. "We now have an opportunity to move forward."

The board will now move toward looking into options for a building and staff.


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