$140K machine not helping SF DNA crime lab

July 23, 2010 10:27:35 PM PDT
There is another black eye for San Francisco's embattled crime lab. A police official says a $140,000 machine that could be used to help eliminate the lab's DNA backlog has sat idle ever since it was bought six years ago.

Friday afternoon the police department told ABC7 there are actually two of these very expensive DNA machines sitting idle in the police crime lab.

The department bought two of them in 2004 with a grant from the federal government. The department was unable to confirm that it was bought with Homeland Security money, but they do admit that for six years the $140,000 DNA testers have been sitting unplugged and unused.

"What happened at specific times over the last five years, but over the course of time, those worlds did not line up for us in a time when we could get these moving forward," said police Cmdr. Denise Schmitt.

Schmitt couldn't tell what it would cost to get the machines up and running or what the machines cost initially and she couldn't say what other programs took priority over getting the DNA machines.

She did say ABC7 was not allowed into the crime lab to see the machines because she said the lab is too sensitive.

However, ABC7 reporter Heather Ishimuru was allowed in the crime lab and given a tour of the facility back in 2003. The case that occupied the crime lab back then was the Lacy Peterson murder case. The Scott Peterson trial was one of the most sensational trials in the city's history.

When asked how the situation was different now, Schmitt said, "The focus of the crime lab and the people who are in the lab right now is to do the work they need to do... From my perspective, it has to do with leaving the crime lab as a place for the work of the crime lab technicians is being done."

The issue isn't just about the money for the machines. It's because they've had a backlog of DNA evidence that wasn't getting processed, and needed to be, they had to send out samples to the state crime lab. At $125 a hit, they had to send out 1,100 of them. So, on top of the price tag for these machines, add another $125,000 on work that could have been done by those two machines sitting in the crime lab.

The issue of untested DNA, and other problems at the lab, came to light earlier this year when a criminalist admitted stealing cocaine.

The good news is the department has been given orders by Chief George Gascon to get those machines up and running and they found another grant in order to do that. They think they'll have it done in about eight months.


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