AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Austin leaders are being urged to find a temporary solution to reopen the police DNA crime lab amid concerns that its months-long closure could last until mid-2018.
The Austin Public Safety Commission approved a resolution Tuesday urging the Austin City Council to find a temporary solution within six months, which could include paying DNA scientists 150 percent above market rate to move to Austin.
Some estimates from the nonprofit Capital Area Private Defender Service suggested that retesting evidence in cases that led to convictions could cost Travis County taxpayers $14 million.
Police closed the lab in June after the Texas Forensic Science Commission raised concerns that staffers were not using commonly accepted practices for DNA analysis. The crisis reached a breaking point in December, when state Department of Public Safety officials refused to continue re-training the lab’s six DNA analysts after losing confidence in four of the technicians.
Assistant Police Chief Troy Gay estimated it could take until June or July of this year for an outside consultant to investigate why the police lab failed, plus another year to implement recommendations and hire and train new scientists.
Commissioner Kim Rossmo told Gay during the commission’s meeting on Monday that “what has happened here has been a colossal management failure.”
“There’s lots of examples of labs having problems, but I don’t think there’s too many where the lab completely collapses,” Rossmo said, noting that some issues will cost taxpayers significant amounts of money.
“I don’t disagree with you,” Gay responded. “We believe the look-back will help us identify where the challenges were and if there were mistakes made. If those mistakes were made and they were negligent, then we will attempt to hold those individuals accountable.”
The public safety commission is expected to ask the City Council to hire a consultant during the council’s meeting on Jan. 26.
DPS and Dallas County labs have been testing some of Austin police’s DNA evidence. Gay said all of the Austin lab’s DNA analysts are still being paid to do administrative work, but that the recently hired chief forensic officer was on administrative leave.
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