Case Studies Competency Issues

Austin Police Department Crime Laboratory

The Austin Police Crime Laboratory halted DNA evidence analysis due to a lack of proper training for scientists in the wake of a state audit in June 2016. Case samples are being outsourced to private laboratories or to the Texas Department of Public Safety for analysis. This solution will increase the workload of scientists across the state as well as increase the backlog of pending cases. Though it does not appear that existing cases had been mishandled, the proactive approach of suspending DNA analysis will allow the laboratory’s procedures to meet national standards. The DNA section was previously run by a civilian supervisor who was absent due to illness, not someone who was a properly trained leader, and was shown to be utilizing scientifically invalid methods, flawed science, and possible contamination issues. In a push to assure laboratories are adhering to national standards and moving beyond outdated protocols, this is a timely decision by officials in Austin to assure cases are being handled properly.

In the wake of the DNA section’s short-term closure, the Austin police department hired a new chief forensics officer. Scott Milne was bought on to repair the DNA laboratory and restore public confidence. He possessed a wealth of experience, in both law enforcement and private forensic laboratories. Unfortunately, after being hired, it was found that his academic transcripts were less than stellar. Once again, the Austin police department’s management and oversight has come into question.

Considerations in this case for further discussion/research are as follows:

  • • Oversight of laboratory methods
  • • Hiring process within the laboratory, to include screening process for candidates
  • • Training requirements, budgets, opportunities, and outcomes
  • • Culture of management throughout the agency system
  • • Knowledge, skills, and abilities of scientists
  • • NAS recommendation to remove crime laboratories from police departments
  • • Civilian verses sworn positions
  • • Cost analysis of closing the laboratory, outsourcing samples, providing necessary training for scientists, and potential review of all past cases
  • • Review of past cases
  • • Impact on the individuals, agency, city, and forensic science profession
  • • Improper procedures verses not updating procedures in a timely fashion
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