The Houston police crime lab struggled with inadequate resources and support for at least 15 years as employees failed proficiency tests, botched analyses, and taught themselves scientific technique by reading books at home, an independent investigator reported yesterday, says the Houston Chronicle. Michael Bromwich, a former U.S. Justice Department official hired to probe the police forensic work, highlighted sources of the crime lab’s problems, such as poor leadership and inattention from the department and city, and revealing new details about how the problems manifested themselves.
“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,” he reported on the investigation’s first phase. Among specific problems: Administrators offered little support for disciplining problem analysts. The lab received insufficient funding. Analysts were paid up to 40 percent less than peers elsewhere. The DNA division did not ensure the quality of its work with regular inspections. Evidence was stored without temperature controls and was exposed to leaking rainwater and rats that gnawed through boxes.