After years of backlogs, mismanagement, and severe criticism, the HPD Crime Lab was removed from within HPD’s control. An “independent” lab, the Houston Forensic Science Center, was formed. Now that independence is under attack.
A recent audit revealed problems with HFSC’s crime scene units and evidence collection. In short, the audit revealed not only a lack of training and technical problems but also a lack of autonomy from HPD.
The Houston Forensic Science Center is now the subject of attempts by the Houston Police Officers Union and the Houston Police Department senior staff to regain control of the Crime Scene Unit (CSU) technicians. These are the same folks who investigate crime scenes related to police shootings and serious felonies such as capital murders, aggravated sexual assaults, aggravated robberies, and kidnappings.
Since the independent lab was created, the CSU positions have been gradually transferring to civilian positions under the independent structure of the HFSC. This has been done by replacing retiring and transferring HPD officers with civilian techs as those officers left. Now HPD is attempting to take back those CSU positions and once again staff them with officers within their chain of command.
The Houston Forensic Science Center was established because of a tragic history of mismanagement, bad science, and outright incompetence under HPD’s management that led to wrongful convictions and serious doubts about the integrity of our criminal justice system. None of us want a return to the multiple problems that existed when the functions of forensic science were directly under the Houston Police Department. The endless series of scandals and problems that led to the calls for decertification and removal of the labs from the police control are exactly what the HFSC was created to avoid. To send the technicians back under HPD command destroys all the progress made in the last decade and sets this city back just as far. It has already cost this city millions in lawsuits, reworked science, and wrongful convictions. We cannot expect to improve upon the past by repeating the mistakes of the past.
HCCLA vehemently opposes any attempts to weaken or undermine the independence of the HFSC and its personnel.
We are the largest local criminal bar in the country, and we urge the Mayor, the city council, and all interested parties to continue to support the independence of the HFSC. Politics is a poor excuse for a sub-standard criminal justice system. We have had that in Houston; we do not need to return to those days.