State audit of SFPD's besieged crime lab released

March 30, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A new report is blasting the scandal-plagued police crime lab in San Francisco. The report exposes all sorts of problems with the way evidence is handled by the crime lab, and they are putting thousands of cases in jeopardy.

San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon says the report confirms just how much the crime lab has been neglected all of these years. He says he was hired as police chief to fix the problems in the department, and he promises to fix this one.

"Anybody that doesn't see the magnitude of this problem is either blind or stupid," said Gascon as he described the severity of many of the problems in the crime lab's controlled substances unit.

Gascon had asked the California Department of Justice to conduct the audit after he learned that former veteran lab technician Deborah Madden may have stolen and used cocaine held as evidence late last year. The lab was shut down early this month.

Meantime, the district attorney's office dropped 500 drug cases while saying 1,400 other cases may also be in jeopardy.

The report found problems with the lab's management system and protocols dealing with drug analysis, stating the "chain of custody is not properly documented for internal evidence transfers," "Evidence handling procedures? are not being followed," and "Staff members? are not current with regular training."

Investigators even discovered that Madden was repeatedly counseled when she failed to record an analysis. The findings noted that San Francisco's crime lab analysts have a tremendous workload.

"In the area of drug analysis of controlled substances, the recommended number of analysis per analysts is around 1,053 annually," said Gascon. "In the San Francisco lab, our analysts were doing somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 analyses per year."

Public defender Jeff Adachi says this report supports his contention that as many as 5,000 cases may have to be dropped.

"When you're talking about a crime lab, it's critical that the lab follow the proper procedures. That's essential to knowing whether or not you can trust the outcomes," he said. "What this report shows is that you can't trust the testing that was done in that lab."

Gascon says he does not know when the crime lab will reopen. One estimate says after the audit is finished with the DNA portion of the lab, the lab may reopen in mid-April or early May.

In the meantime, all of the new drug cases are being analyzed at other labs. The Justice Department lab has been given 1,100 samples to be analyzed. All of the outsourcing is costing the city $75 to $100 per sample.


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