I was going to blog about this Chron story regarding a backlog in fingerprint analyses for the HPD Crime Lab, but Grits said most of what I was going to say, so just go read him. The key, I think, is this:
[W]hether the lab is independent or part of the police department, the problem of chronic backlogs stems from a shortage of resources – it’s going to cost Houston a lot more money to fix this problem, either way, than they’re spending on forensics now. The only other option is to choose not to devote forensic resources to certain categories of offenses, and if backlogs become too onerous, to expand those categories.
I feel like what’s been left unsaid in the discussion about creating regional and/or independent crime labs is the cost, and who pays for it. Don’t get me wrong, I continue to think these are good ideas, but only if we do them right. A half-assed, underfunded independent crime will be no improvement over what we have now. DA Lykos suggests in the article that the Harris County Medical Examiner’s office is a possible solution. Maybe she’s right; it can’t hurt to study the idea, in any event. We need to look at these current problems as opportunities to find a better way to do what we’re doing now, and to get commitments to pay for them, so we won’t be faced with fixing the same problems again in another few years.