AUSTIN (KXAN) — Concerns raised by the Texas Forensic Science Commission have forced the Austin Police Department to suspend operations at their DNA lab. This comes after the death of the director of the lab.
The lack of a properly trained staff and a forensics lab behind the times is what Police Chief Art Acevedo says is the cause of all operations in their DNA lab being shut down.
“The actual formulas that are being used to validate the samples, we have been using a formula that is not consistent with the formula that has been adopted by the state of Texas,” said Acevedo.
That means that now hundreds of DNA samples will be sent to private labs or to the Texas Department of Public Safety to be tested. Those chosen to be transferred will be determined by how critical the case is.
After the director of the DNA lab passed away, Acevedo says the department has struggled to stay up to date with the standards. “Our science team made a decision to stay with one standard when the rest of the state moved to another standard and quite frankly we aren’t going to be an island unto ourselves. We are going to follow, as long as I’m chief, the standards that the scientific community has agreed to.”
Even with outdated formulas, Acevedo says it’s unlikely that their process has caused any mix-up in the court system.
“I’m going to ensure and I think the DA will ensure that we make it a priority to look at any prior cases to make sure that no innocent person has been convicted and to make sure that no wanted criminal has escaped the long arm justice of the law because of any type of abnormalities or deviation of standard practices or best practices,” said Acevedo.
The process of sending samples to an outside source will ultimately cause a delay for all of those waiting for their case to be tested. However, with an outdated system Acevedo says there was no other choice.
“We have a duty to make sure that we have the right answers, and although it is going to be an inconvenience, it is going to create some challenges and at a minimum slow things down for us,” said Acevedo.
The team will now focus on improvements while going through a thorough amount of training along with a full audit process. The department is also in the process of hiring a new scientist to run the crime lab.
If all goes well, Acevedo says he expects the Texas Forensic Science Commission to allow the department to reopen their DNA lab in four to six months.
“We need to have our own crime lab, because if you don’t have your own crime lab then you are not masters of your own destiny in terms of prioritizing your cases,” said Acevedo.