According to the findings of a six-month study by a 19-member San Francisco Civil Grand Jury, our local crime lab needs to be removed from SFPD control and run independently, just as the Medical Examiner's office is run.
"To reduce bias and to encourage scientific management, the Jury recommends that the Crime Lab be separated from the Police Department and function as an independent arm of the criminal justice system," specifies a statement summarizing the report. "Under Police Department management, the Crime Lab has been supervised in the last six years by six different Police Captains who have rarely had scientific training, usually have had short tenure, and have frequently demonstrated poor understanding of the needs of the Lab." In fact, CBS 5 adds, some Captains in charge of the lab lacked college degrees altogether. The report calls for civilian scientist manager to run an independently funded and autonomous lab.
“An avalanche of scandals, from theft to incompetence, has damaged the credibility of the crime lab,” says Pubic Defender Jeff Adachi according to CBS. Those scandals at the “fundamentally incompetent and biased” have indeed been worrisome and wearying. Last March, authorities confirmed that "irregularities" might affect hundreds of cases reliant on DNA evidence: A lab technician and her supervisor allegedly submitted actually incomplete evidence as "definitive," filling in gaps in a DNA profile, according to the SFPD.
The lab has vowed since 2010 to increase hiring, but in early 2011 was still woefully understaffed and costly. Perhaps most *scandalous* of the scandals, and really the saddest of them, is the case of Deborah Madden, a longtime lab tech who, finally, in March of 2013, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor cocaine possession, avoiding jail time in federal trails on graver charges of mishandling evidence — yes, taking small amounts of ill-gotten cocaine from the lab back in 2009.
The most disheartening of the labs woes? A backlog of rape kits, many of which have gone untested, as has, for example, the kit from Heather Harlowe, who filed a Federal Lawsuit against San Francisco this January.
The Examiner writes that the report also details a perceived bias at the lab toward prosecutors.
Mayoral spokesperson Christine Falvey tells the Examiner that "The mayor is committed to making sure San Francisco has a modern, state-of-the-art Crime Lab that meets national accreditation standards. He will be reviewing the Civil Grand Jury Report." The police department will relocate its Forensic Services to the Bayview, for example, in a $165 million project that's currently under construction.
SFPD spokesperson Sgt. Michael Andraychak criticized the report for not taking into account the progress made by the Crime Lab during the course of its study. For instance: In August, it earned accreditation from the American Society of Crime Lab Directors. “It is important to note that while the Grand Jury was conducting its review, the Department and Crime Lab have made significant strides in improving policies, procedures and practices to align with ASCLD standards,”Andraychak said.