Mayor Parker has revealed her vision for an independent regional crime lab.
Mayor Annise Parker proposed on Wednesday taking control of the city’s crime lab away from the police department and handing it to an independent seven-member board with expertise in forensic science and fiscal management.
“I clearly prefer to have our forensics sciences not under the influence of police, prosecution or politics,” Parker said.
There are no details yet on where the crime lab would be located or how to come up with what a written report identified as the “significant” start-up costs for a new crime lab.
Parker proposes forming a local government corporation — a hybrid of sorts between a non-profit organization and a government agency — that would become the new employer of 188 police and civilian employees who currently work for the police department’s crime lab. The city envisions that the seven-member board would include a representative from the Innocence Project, the organization that uses DNA testing to exonerate the wrongfully convicted.
Parker herself would appoint the board members. Council would confirm them.
City Attorney David Feldman explained that such a board, because members could only be removed for wrongdoing, would be more independent than the county medical examiner, who is an at-will employee of Commissioners Court.
The LGC is the key to understanding the proposal, as it is the reason why the lab would be independent in a way that the county’s lab would not, at least as the Mayor sees it. The Chron story from before the announcement discusses that point.
Criminal justice advocates praised Parker’s push for independence.
“We definitely see it as a much-needed step to ensuring that people are not wrongfully convicted,” said Ana Yáñez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, which advocates for human and civil rights and protecting public safety. “Independence is key.”
The city and county have disagreed on what independence means. County officials insist that although Commissioners Court has the power to appoint the director of its Institute for Forensic Sciences and to set its budget, the operation runs independently of the sheriff and the district attorney. Parker has said that to hand over the city’s crime lab work to the county “simply substitutes one government master for another government master.”
The mayor’s plan does not preclude merging operations with the county, [spokesperson Janice] Evans said.
“In fact, we hope we can reach agreement on something that would include more entities than the city,” she said. The local government corporation board Parker envisions would have the power to broker deals with other jurisdictions.
County Judge Ed Emmett said that although the city and county are on separate tracks right now, Parker’s proposal ultimately could make it easier for the two governments to come together.
“By having the LGC, it opens up more options for how the city can approach forensic science, including partnering with the Institute of Forensic Sciences,” Emmett said.
That’s what most people would surely like to see happen. It makes the most sense in terms of cost and complexity. We’ll see what happens as more of the details get filled in. According to the post-presentation story, the proposal won’t come up for a vote before next month, so there’s time for things to be tweaked. You can see the Mayor’s presentation here. Backstory on the city and county’s efforts so far can be found here, here, here, here, and here. Stace has more.