City Leaders Blast Houston's Crime Lab

Houston's crime lab continues to spark debate at City Hall. Councilmembers questioned why they should continue to authorize contracts for the lab when the city intends to outsource its evidence to an independent lab in the future.

The Houston Police Department's beleaguered crime lab took more criticism from a few city councilmembers as they challenged a five year contract to purchase DNA kits for HPD, another contract to analyze the crime lab's backlog of rape kits stored on site for years and a contract for fingerprint analysis.

This is Councilmember C.O. Bradford, who was once HPD's police chief.

"For years now, I've been asking, and a year and a half as a councilmember, where is the long range plan for the crime lab? What are we going to do to resolve the outstanding issues associated with the Houston Police Department or crime lab. And it's fair to say that my experience, my background and my involvement with some of the past issues in the crime lab put me in a unique position to stand publicly and say that we need a plan."

Bradford says police chiefs are not scientists and are not qualified to oversee crime lab operations.

"Therefore, we need to move aggressively, in my view, to remove the crime lab and its associated activities to an independent entity outside the scope of the Houston Police Department, because we really do need supervision and oversight from personnel that are scientists and have the proper background to oversee what's going on with the analysis."

Houston Mayor Annise Parker says she agrees that the city shouldn't be operating its own crime lab. She supports the idea of an independent regional lab that would provide services for the city and Harris County along with other area municipalities.

"One of the difficulties we have is we don't have any money — any spare money. The county really doesn't either. We believe that it's only appropriate to have an independent crime lab. And I think the preference at the county is for them to control the crime lab and they'd like us to brings ours under them."

Councilmember Jolanda Jones also voiced her concerns about the city's lack of a plan. Jones, who is an attorney, dealt with crime lab issues back in 2002 on one of her legal cases and says she's tired of still talking about it.

"I will tell you to this day in every discipline at the crime lab, collection of evidence is problematic. But we are trying to pretend like the crime lab is okay."

The council approved the three contracts for crime lab services, although Councilmembers Jones, Bradford and Mike Sullivan voted against the fingerprint contract.

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...