Friday, July 01, 2005

The fiasco at the Houston Police lab

Former Houston Police Chief Clarence Bradford (pictured, left) has disconnected his phone.

And when The New York Times reports that you've disconnected your phone, it's a safe bet you haven't done it to avoid telephone solicitors.

The first report is in on the joke that was the Houston Police Department "laboratory."

Laboratory? This place more closely resembled a leaky boat storage shed.

"By 2002, the number of untested rape kits had grown to 19,500, some dating back to 1980, and the backlog is still about 10,000, the report said. Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 flooded the laboratory, and in 33 homicide and rape cases, employees were quoted as reporting, "this biological evidence had become so saturated with water that they observed bloody water dripping out of the boxes containing the evidence and pooling on the floor."

In another location, the property room - where 280 cartons of misplaced evidence from 8,000 cases dating back to the 1960's were discovered last year - rats were found eating through evidence boxes."

The problems got real bad in the 1980s, when DNA breakthroughs required someone with actual training and knowledge to handle the job. Enter, Lee P. Brown, who was Houston Police Chief from 1982-90, and later elected mayor in 1998, following a stint as President Clinton's "drug czar."
"A drug chemist who joined the laboratory in 1979, James R. Bolding, was pushed up the ladder under former Police Chief Lee P. Brown, who later became mayor, and his police successor, former chief Clarence O. Bradford, to fill vacancies in serology, despite inadequate training, the report said. It quoted Mr. Bolding as telling investigators he "took books home and did the best he could." Mr. Bolding did not respond to a phone message left with his son at home.

And Chief Bradford, it went on, refused to spend a City Council grant to hire more workers because once the money ran out, the department would have to pay them. His phone number has been disconnected."

All this in the nation's fourth largest city -- a self-proclaimed "international city."
Yee-haw, Saniflush!

Still, Lee P. Brown got a building named after him -- the Lee P. Brown METRO Administration Building at 1900 Main Street. Yeah, METRO.

To our knowledge, there are no plans to name any public buildings after Clarence "No Phone" Bradford.
"Shockingly, the City and HPD failed to repair the roof leaks that allowed water to pour into the Crime Lab for over six years...we do not yet know whether the well-publicized cases of the Crime Lab’s failures are isolated analytic breakdowns or only the tip of an iceberg of widespread analytic failures, incompetence, or worse. Our Phase II case reviews will show comprehensively, not anecdotally, the extent to which Crime Lab analysts did or did not do good work. Only then will we grasp the answers to the questions that have driven this investigation -- most centrally, how did the work of the HPD Crime Lab facilitate or impair the proper functioning of the Harris County criminal justice system. And, to the extent there were widespread failures, what were the human consequences?"


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