As DNA testing emerged as a powerful forensic tool, New York began to examine how best to monitor its crime labs, says the Houston Chronicle. Months of debate led to the 1992 creation of the Commission on Forensic Science, a panel from all corners of the justice system that oversees the operation of all New York crime labs. The 12 members include nominees of top government officials, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and forensic scientists. It is the ultimate authority that determines which crime labs are allowed to operate and has the power to demand qualifications beyond those of professional organizations that issue basic standards for accredited labs nationwide.
The New York system has emerged as an attractive model for Texas as lawmakers consider reforms to prevent the recurrence of problems like those that have plagued the Houston Police Department. An oversight board is likely to be the cornerstone of state legislation, although lawmakers have not ruled out more sweeping reforms, such as the elimination of locally run DNA labs. Crime labs in Dallas and Bexar counties are the only public forensic science divisions in their area. They operate outside the purview of law enforcement and take work from many clients, including defense attorneys. Timothy Sliter, of Dallas’ Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences, said autonomy is essential to the success of his lab, which was set up as its own division in the late 1960s.