DPS will re-open and operate APD's forensic DNA lab

A fresh start for the Austin Police Department's DNA lab.
               
City Council passed a group of items-related to clearing up the case backlog and re-opening the lab on the consent agenda Thursday morning.

"There very well could be people that have been punished because of errors at our own lab and the items that we're approving today would hopefully move us in the direction of justice of making sure that we make any of that right," said Council Member Greg Casar.

"The situation as it is now, if we put a full rush on, we might get results in 9 months.  That's really difficult for us to operate under so we've been having to spend money for private labs to test these evidence in cases where we needed additional testing to go to trial," said Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore.

Austin Police tell Fox 7 as of Thursday afternoon the total number of cases that need to be outsourced is 2,535. Of those, 1,686 are sexual assault kits.

"Today what we're seeing is kind of the final steps of the plan being put into place that I think is going to bring us to the point I think we need to be," said interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley.

One of the decisions made Thursday morning: an agreement with DPS not to exceed $4 million.

"The Department of Public Safety is now going to operate a satellite forensic DNA lab out of the APD lab space that is currently sitting unused," Manley said.

APD Chief Brian Manley says DPS will manage the facility, hire personnel and have complete oversight of the lab.

"They will work solely on APD cases.  So this is really going to do a lot for Austin citizens, for our survivors here," Manley said.

Council also approved an interlocal agreement with Travis County -- hiring a consultant to figure out what went wrong and to consider what the lab might look like in the future.

"Should it be in APD's control ever again?  Is the DPS model we're about to set up, is that what we want permanently?  Or other options they may bring forward," Manley said.

Manley says APD will also work with the Capital Area Private Defenders for post-conviction analysis.

"Cases where we've already tried individuals and they've been incarcerated, found guilty based on DNA evidence that was processed through the APD lab.  We actually have to review each one of those cases for materiality to determine if that DNA played a role in the conviction and then if so there may be a need to do re-testing on those cases." Manley said.

"Both the City and the County worked together very collaboratively to reach what I think is an excellent interim solution and a long-term plan so I'm pretty proud of the work," Moore said.

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