By Annise D. Parker
Mayor Bill White needs to make the Houston Police Department crime lab an independent department in his new budget expected in mid-May. The mayor took a major step forward last year (when I made the same suggestion) by requiring HPD to present the crime lab budget as a stand-alone segment of its $450 million budget.
I continue to believe that separation entirely from the police department is the only way to achieve the layer of independence the crime lab needs to truly function effectively and efficiently.
Once the new department is established, a new stakeholders committee can discuss creating an independent regional crime lab to serve the city, county, and surrounding communities. That idea has already drawn support from the mayor himself, HPD Chief Harold Hurtt, District Attorney Pat Lykos, County Judge Ed Emmett, and several Houston City Council members, including Jolanda Jones.
I served on the 2007 stakeholders committee led by crime lab expert Michael ? Bromwich that reviewed the scandalous Houston crime lab. That investigation’s conclusion—that serious lab problems began because the lab was not an HPD priority —supports the need for a truly independent crime lab.
Last month, I highlighted a landmark national forensics study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences that included sweeping recommendations for improving forensics. One of the recommendations urged the establishment of independent crime labs and offered specific suggestions for making them more professional and truly independent, such as blind testing, or regularly and secretly sending one lab’s forensic evidence to another lab to keep labs honest.
Another prominent expert recommends hiring evidence handlers to shepherd evidence between law enforcement and crime labs without conveying any information about where or how evidence was obtained, as well as forbidding forensic experts from talking to police or prosecutors before conducting tests.
An independent crime lab that produces scientific, unbiased results is not a pipedream. It’s urgently needed to repair one of the cornerstones of our criminal justice system and restore public confidence.
Police deserve a first-class weapon in the fight against crime. The public deserves a first-class crime lab in the fight for equal justice.
May 9 Special Election
If you live in District H, don’t forget about the special City Council election Saturday, May 9. ? Nine candidates are seeking the council seat vacated by Adrian Garcia, who was elected Harris County sheriff. District H includes a large area of central and north Houston that includes the Heights and many other neighborhoods. (For a detailed map of District H, please go to www.houstontx.gov/council/maps/h.html).
If you haven’t registered to vote or need to re-register because you moved, please go ahead and register. There’ll probably be a runoff in this election, and you could vote in the important runoff. Then you’re all set for the regular November city elections.
A candidate for Houston’s mayor in the November 3 election, Annise D. Parker is Houston’s third-term city controller and one of the highest-ranking openly GLBT-elected municipal officials in the U.S. Her webpage is AnniseParker.com. To receive the controller’s newsletter, send an e-mail to [email protected] houston.net.