Dallas Co. forensic lab may help Austin police with DNA backlog

During the Austin City Council's budget planning process in September, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo delivered some news that would make the work on the dais a little easier...at least when it comes to clearing up the department's backlog of DNA cases -- A $200,000 Federal grant.

"We're very confident and I can almost assure you that we'll be able to get it done within our existing resources between the grant and some other existing funding.  We'll be able to get the backlog squared away," Acevedo said before council.

Fast forward to November, the department says some of that grant money may be used toward a new interlocal agreement.

This Thursday, City Council will decide whether to authorize a 12-month $1.6 million agreement with the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences at Dallas to help clear up the backlog.

APD says a million dollars of that amount is already in their budget. 

To recap, APD's forensic lab was shut down this summer after an independent review found outdated technology and improperly trained technicians.

Recently Assistant Chief Brian Manley said there are two types of backlogs: one with about 3,000 samples dating back to the '90s -- and another 1,400 that backed up because there wasn't enough staff to process them.

Mike Levy is a member of the Public Safety Commission.  He says the commission recently recommended to council they do whatever necessary to help APD catch up -- including outsourcing the work.

"This is not APD's fault.  I mean people should not say 'Oh APD messed up on this' nor did the crime lab.  To try to put blame on either entity would be wrong," Levy said.

Levy says the APD lab just didn't have the guidance or the resources.  He would like to see the lab out from under the APD umbrella.

"We can do it here if it stays within the police department but it's going to be much better if we can get it outside the police department like other cities have done and put it somewhere else.  In my opinion, the Medical Examiner's office.  One of the best in the country," Levy said.

By the way, the agreement can be extended for another five years -- not to exceed $3.6 million.
   
I did ask Austin Police to comment today, they said they can't until the item comes up at council Thursday.
   
Austin Police had said they planned to re-open the lab sometime in 2017. They did tell me that is still the plan.
 

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