Attorney general gives SF crime lab high marks


When the drug testing scandal broke, San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon asked the state attorney general to review the entire operations of the crime lab. That included not only the drug testing unit but the DNA and firearms sections as well.

On Wednesday, Gascon announced the San Francisco crime lab will no longer be involved in drug testing -- that will be done by an outside laboratory.

"It's very labor intensive and we've determined it's one of the areas that we can do at a very reasonable cost with an outside vendor," he said.

District Attorney Kamala Harris said through her spokesman, she supports the chief's decision.

"It's a way to save resources, it's the smart thing to do. It's what other counties do. It's more cost effective, so it's a win-win," Brian Buckelew said.

Gascon says the move would also restore the crime lab's integrity which has been damaged by the scandal involving retired criminalist Deborah Madden.

After she admitted stealing cocaine evidence, prosecutors have dropped hundreds of drug cases.

Gascon also disclosed the findings of a state attorney general's investigation into the DNA testing unit of the lab.

"We're very pleased to say, based on this outside review, this review by experts for the Department of Justice, our DNA lab is working well," he said.

Shortcomings mentioned by the probe include the lack of resources and funding. This audit was in sharp contrast to the state's previous investigation of the drug testing unit, which was made public several weeks ago.

That report found problems with protocols dealing with drug analysis. It said evidence handling was sloppy and that staff was trained poorly.

While the DNA lab unit received high marks, the crime lab still has a huge backlog -- about a year's worth of DNA and firearms cases.

Gascon has decided that work should also go to outside labs.

"We recognize that if we continue to try to work on that as we have new work coming every day, we will never get from under the backlog," he said.

The state attorney general's office has yet to finish its investigation of the firearms testing unit of the lab. Gascon also says he'll be working with the mayor's office to find the money to move the crime lab to new facilities.

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