APD DNA lab timeline "unacceptable" says Public Safety commission

Austin Police Department Assistant Chief Troy Gay told the city’s Public Safety Commission Dallas’ DNA lab isn’t taking as many cases as they initially thought.

Gay telling the members on Tuesday during their first meeting of the New Year. APD has testified about the problems plaguing their DNA lab for the latter part of 2015.

In April, The Texas Forensic Science Commission released a report highlighting issues within the lab: out of date technology and mishandling of samples. The report prompted APD to temporarily shutter the lab, announcing its closure for the foreseeable future on December 16.

APD has been tasked with rooting out the problems in the DNA as well as clearing out a backlog of more than a thousand cases. Gay says that includes nearly 500 sex assault kits. Additionally, he adds, APD is logging roughly 90 new DNA cases monthly. Those range from sex assaults, to robberies, and other crimes.

“We are looking at other labs inter-local, anything we can do to try to address the backlog and the current cases that are coming in today,” Gay said after the meeting.

That had included sending a large number of cases to Dallas County's DNA lab to clear it out. Gay says the lab, the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences will now take only 20 cases a month.

On Tuesday, Gay told the Public Safety Commission it could take up to two years to find a permanent solution for testing APD’s DNA kits. The Commission’s response?

“Unacceptable,” said member Mike Levy. “We are going to do what the City of Austin and Travis county does all of the time, lots of meetings, Kumbaya, and that's not good enough,” he said after the meeting adjourned, adding, “we need to have a sense of urgency about how to fix it.”

During the meeting, Levy proposed a motion for the Austin City Council to consider. It would kickstart a mandate to have an interim solution in six months.

“In terms of whether we spend our energy on prospectively going forward how are we going to fix or retrospectively who are we going to throw under the bus, we only have so much energy and time.” And he says, “let's focus on what's really important, how do we fix it, how do we move forward, and how do we get rid of this terrible, horrible, sinful backlog.”

APD says they are working to hire a consultant to prepare a report about what went wrong, and what the path forward could look like. That could include outsourcing the lab completely. Levy has suggested the Travis County Medical Examiner’s office should oversee it. APD says they will consider all possibilities.

In addition to the timeline updates, Gay told the Public Safety Commission:

  • Investigators are still gathering the same amount of DNA evidence as in the past
  • Currently, The Texas Department of Public Safety is processing highest priority cases needed for trial
  • Gay says once an external report is completed, if it indicates negligence, APD could launch an internal investigation to determine culpability
  • 4 DNA lab workers are on administrative duty in other areas of APD’s crime lab
  • APD is sending 2 Serologists to work out of The Texas DPS’ DNA lab to help test APD kits for DNA
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