Accreditation agency willing to re-audit SFPD crime lab

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Under scrutiny: Recently leaked transcripts accused the SFPD of ignoring concerns about the crime lab.
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The head of the national crime lab accreditation organization that audited the San Francisco Police Department’s lab last year said it will accommodate a new department request to review its entire operations, but not until next year.

Police Chief Greg Suhr told the Police Commission last week that he had invited the North Carolina-based American Society of Crime Lab Directors to return to review the DNA lab, which has come under media scrutiny recently.

Published reports cited accusations by a former consultant to the District Attorney’s Office that a technician who now supervises the DNA lab may have failed to properly report a sample in a 2007 murder case.

The consultant, Rockne Harmon, also alleged that the Police Department never forwarded his concerns about the case to the society, which was auditing the entire lab in 2010 in the wake of a scandal there.

The crime lab’s drug lab was closed by then-police Chief George Gascón, but its DNA lab was re-accredited.

Suhr told the Police Commission last Wednesday that while the DNA lab was “in complete compliance” with industry standards, he wanted to invite the organization back “just to err on the side of caution.”

Society Executive Director Ralph Keaton told The SF Examiner on Tuesday that he had still not received an official written request from San Francisco police, but had spoken with Capt. Louis Cassanego, who heads the Police Department’s forensic services bureau, by phone.

Keaton said the Police Department indicated it would like the society to review more than just the DNA lab.

“I was told it would probably be for the entire laboratory,” Keaton said. The lab also does ballistics and fingerprint analysis.

Keaton said a crime lab’s accreditation normally lasts five years, and that requests to review already-accredited crime labs happen infrequently.

“It might happen once or twice a year, when laboratories have any concern about a particular issue,” he said. “I think it’s done to make sure there’s a quality system in place that’s working.”

An audit typically takes about a week, Keaton said, but don’t expect one at the San Francisco crime lab anytime soon.

Keaton said his organization is “extremely busy.”

“It won’t happen until some time in the spring in all likelihood,” he said.

The Police Department did not immediately return a call for comment.

 

aburack@sfexaminer.com

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