Mayor Annise Parker recently unveiled the city’s plan for a new crime lab in Houston that will be overseen by an independent board. The current crime lab is riddled with problems. There are thousands of untested rape kits and a complete mismanagement of evidence. Since 2002, changes have been made within the system but to no avail.
Mayor Parker and her chief development officer, Andy Icken, are expecting the program to cost nearly 20% more than the current system, which is run by the police department (see here). As I’ve said in this blog before, cuts across the board are not ideal because every department/program is unique. Some should be cut more than others (and some should be cut completely). Then there are these rare situations where maybe we have to spend a little more money to get the outcome we need. While I don’t advocate spending more money on anything needlessly, this isn’t needless. After three mayors and ten years of battling this problem, something needs to change, and creating more independence for the lab might just be the something that needs to happen. This is a public safety issue, and public safety is one of the few things that the government should be in charge of handling. Of course, the change in the program will bring its own set of problems; however if Mayor Parker stays steadfast in fixing these problems as they occur and truly makes sure that the lab is independent, it just might work.
With that being said, I am, however, reluctant to support this program 100% until I see more details. This is essentially creating a new department and a new bureaucracy, and that is rarely ideal. I would like to see the breakdown of the budget to know fully why it is going to cost more money. I would also like to see her plan on how the current problems will be fixed under the new system. Why is it that the nonaffiliated scientists will suddenly be objective, but they couldn’t be under HPD? Will the independent board really be independent? What would it cost to privatize this program? What about a private system with some government oversight (since it is a public safety issue)? Clearly there are items to work out before I would be comfortable with the city moving forward, but I am optimistic that this change might be for the best.
One item to note: Mayor Parker preferred to have a regional crime lab (see here) in conjunction with Harris County; however, the city and county couldn’t come to an agreement on the financial aspect. I think before the city implements the crime lab, Mayor Parker should continue to work with Harris County until that option has been completely exhausted so that they can share necessary information and save money.