April 17, 2005
Good news and bad news on the crime front

Grits reports that the Harris County drug task force is kaput. This is a good thing, since the main legacy of these things is the Tulia fiasco. It also allows for the money earmarked for the task forces to go to better uses such as drug courts.

Meanwhile, a bill to create regional crime labs for DNA evidence processing is dead for this session amidst finger-pointing between State Rep. Kevin Bailey (D, Houston) and HPD Chief Harold Hurtt.

Earlier in the session, Hurtt, along with the police chiefs of the five other largest cities in Texas, had endorsed the proposal.

But Bailey now says he is not sure whether Hurtt and the city were ever committed to funding the labs.

"That's how their lab problems started to begin with. They didn't want to commit sufficient funds. And to some degree, I think that still exists," Bailey said.

Hurtt acknowledges he was concerned about the issue of turnaround time, given the DPS's current six-month backlog in processing DNA evidence.

"But there was no issue about a guaranteed turnaround," Hurtt said. "We wanted to discuss the issue of turnaround time."

As for the fees, Hurtt pointed out that some smaller law enforcement agencies have their evidence processed by the DPS without charge.

"What we were concerned about was that everybody pay their share," Hurtt said.

But Bailey maintained that Hurtt was more concerned about the costs to the city.

"We were in a situation basically where the city wanted everybody else to pay for the facility," Bailey said.

"I'm not convinced at this point that the city is willing or capable of running a lab on their own," he said.

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, confirmed that the regional DNA lab bill is dead for this session.

He acknowledged that there was resistance to the legislation from some rural law enforcement agencies but said those agencies may have to find a way to contribute in the future.

"I mean, that's the breaks," said Whitmire, chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee. "They need to come on board and pay the cost of doing this."

I'm a little confused by all that, but never mind. There's a separate bill to create a Forensic Sciences Commission which will have oversight responsibilities and which will presumably recommend the creation of independent crime labs, which will put us back where we started. Maybe next time.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 17, 2005 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack