Houston Council Longs for Regional Crime Lab

Houston's City Council is in the midst of hashing out the city's annual budget. As part of the process, council members submit their amendments and wish lists for how the money should be spent. One of the suggestions that is getting a lot of attention is the creation of a regional crime lab. Laurie Johnson has more.

Houston's Police Department crime lab has long been infamous for its botched cases and mishandled evidence.

The department made significant improvements over the past several years including hiring a new director and upgrading facilities and equipment.

But there are still a lot of people, like Councilmember Jolanda Jones, who think citizens would be better served by an independent regional crime lab.

"There are other models that are being used that work. I think the model that we use is broken. And we need to, as expiditiously as we can, to get out of the business of having HPD operate a crime lab."

Councilmember Melissa Noriega, who chairs the city's public safety committee, says she's been in discussion with the Harris County District Attorney's office about a regional lab.

"Eventually if we were to do this, and there seems to be some strong feeling that we should, then we're talking about a facility, we're talking about budgets, but we need a beginning and a way forward. And so what we had talked about was putting together the regional players to talk about how we might implement this."

A regional crime lab would be contracted out to an independent company and process cases for HPD, the sheriff's department and other local law enforcement agencies.

Houston Mayor Bill White says from the beginning, HPD leadership and the administration supported the idea of developing a regional center.

"Supporting a concept is different than building something and funding it. Personally, I think if we're going to do this in a business-like basis and not a sort of political, governmental, bureaucratic basis — pretty simple. There are certain services, for example DNA test comes in, is tested, results within a certain time period, you pay for that product."

But before anyone gets too excited — the city's budget doesn't actually include money for a regional crime lab. The motion councilmembers passed simply calls for the administration to engage various stakeholders in a discussion about the issue.

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...