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Never-ending scandal: Will we ever fix HPD's crime lab?

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Houston, TX

Our stomach sank when we saw the headline "More Untested Rape Kits at HPD" (August 10, Page 1). The Houston Police Department, it turned out, doesn't have a shocking 4,000 rape kits languishing untested in its property room; the number is actually closer to 7,000.

An ugly sense of déjà vu set in. How many times, we wondered, has the Houston Police Department's scandal-plagued crime lab turned out to be even worse than we'd previously believed?

Consider just a sampling of lab-related headlines from the last decade:

July 29, 2011: "HPD crime lab faces more heat; Former supervisor testifies she quit over accuracy of alcohol tests."

July 19, 2010: "District attorney calls for emergency DNA lab; Houston's backlog of cases keeps growing."

January 27, 2010: "HPD lab faces 3rd backlog problem; 300 cases are in need of firearm forensics."

December 13, 2009: "Prints and problems; HPD's fingerprint scandal reminds us how much we need an independent crime lab."

April 25, 2009: "Another crime lab bungle surfaces; Prosecutors to ask that man who has spent 22 years in prison be freed on bail. Richard could be 4th man cleared after crime lab errors."

January 26, 2008: "HPD again shuts down crime lab's DNA unit; Move follows resignation of division's leader in cheating probe."

December 12, 2007: "HPD lab analyst indicted on theft, tampering charges. His suspension triggered a review of 200 narcotics cases he'd handled."

June 17, 2007: "'Troubling' Cases Surface in Report on HPD Crime Lab; 1991 conviction for rape, murder has drawn the most concern."

January 5, 2006: "HPD Lab Probe Details More Lapses; Revelations show 2 divisions' problems amount to 'near-total breakdown.'"

December 18, 2005: "HPD's lab's troubles predate DNA testing; Experts' review finds a pattern of problems in 1980s studies of blood samples."

June 5, 2005: "Bitter pills; HPD analysts faked drug evidence in four cases. How much more fraud has gone undetected?"

November 5, 2003: "DNA evidence destroyed; pardons called possible."

June 25, 2003: "HPD ignored warnings, ex-lab man says; Retired official says he cited 'train wreck.'"

April 3, 2003: "HPD chief proposes independently run crime lab."

June 5, 2002: "Rape Kits; HPD strives to end 'embarrassment' of untested DNA."

How much longer until we fix the problem? Since 2003, it's been clear that the crime lab needs to be independent of the police department, and recently, Harris County took steps to create just such a regional lab. But so far, the city of Houston hasn't put in its share of the money. So HPD's crime lab stays where it is. And the scandals keep coming.

Even in a tough economy, justice needs to be a city priority. How many more outrages are we willing to endure? How many rapists will we let roam the streets? How many wrongful convictions will we tolerate? How much longer will we allow justice to be denied?

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