The Boston Police Department is closing and revamping its troubled fingerprint unit after it was blamed for a wrongful conviction and a consultant issued a blistering critique, the Boston Globe reports. Police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole said that the unit, which tries to identify suspects by matching prints found at crime scenes with ones in police files, is “inadequate.” Since it would take two years to train officers to fix the problems, she said that labor relations administrators are talking to the police union about letting the department hire previously trained civilian specialists to run the unit. If a deal can’t be reached, she will hire an outside consultant.
Pending a longer-term solution, State Police will do the work, while the police unit will continue the less scientifically rigorous duties of indexing fingerprints. The shutdown is a blow to a big-city police department that holds itself up as a national model. “It’s not typical at all,” said Dr. Michael Baden, a former chief medical examiner in New York state and a prominent forensic pathologist. “Normally things have to be pretty bad before a lab is shut down.” Until a judge freed him in January, Stephan Cowans spent six years in prison after the unit wrongly matched his print with a fingerprint from a glass mug found at a crime scene where a police officer was shot and wounded in 1997. “Out of all the bad needs to come some good,” O’Toole said. “The latent print section is inadequate. They’re not up to industry standard.”