Harsh Audit Slams Overworked, Careless S.F. Crime Lab

Categories: Crime

San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon announced today that the embattled crime lab's drug unit will remain closed until it can adhere to the industry's average annual caseload per worker -- just one of many recommendations in a peer audit of the drug lab released by the police Tuesday.

The industry average is 1,053 cases a year, but the lab's drug technicians were handling anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 cases, and "good laboratory practices have been repeatedly short-changed in favor of high case throughput," wrote the directors of the Sacramento County crime lab and the California Department of Justice Central Valley lab in their report. 

Gascon had a rather quotable way of putting things in a Tuesday afternoon press conference: "Anyone that doesn't see the magnitude of this problem is blind or stupid." Or both, chief. Don't forget that possibility.

In the meantime, the lab will continue to farm out drug cases for testing to regional labs to the tune of 25 cases a day, costing $75 to $125 a pop. While Gascon said the lab has started the application process for new lab techs, he says the lab will continue, once it re-opens, to send out any cases that would work the lab techs beyond the industry average.

Gascon blazed into the press conference with a new-sheriff-in-town conviction to change the situation. "This is a problem that started with the San Francisco Police Department," he said. "I was brought here to fix many of the perceived problems of the San Francisco Police Department. It will be fixed by the San Francisco Police Department along with the help of others."

We culled through the nine-page report for some of the juicier bits: 

  •  Drug samples are delivered by couriers to the drug lab, bar-coded in, and then placed in an "unsecured cardboard box" on the floor. Not exactly safe there, we're guessing.
  •  Any analyst was able "to gain access to any other analyst's short-term drug evidence storage locker, remove drug cases and assign themselves a controlled substance case when the evidence is shown to be in another analyst's possession."
  • "Spare keys to the analysts' short-term drug evidence storage locker were accessible to all analysts at all times." (The report said this practice was changed this month.)
  • "Evidence tampering could have been prevented had good laboratory practices been in place and practiced" by the lab staff.

The report recommended:

  • Increase the staff to cut down on the 5,000 to 7,000 cases processed by each worker each year.
  • Use of a secure central storage area or cabinet rather than the ol' box on the floor for incoming and outgoing drug evidence.
  • Seal the baggie or container holding the drug evidence and put one's initials across the seal to protect it from tampering.
  • Report the net weight of drug evidence (the drugs themselves) vs. the gross weight (the drugs plus the packaging they're in).
  • Stop hiring blind or stupid people. Just kidding.
Gascon said the attorney general will be auditing other parts of the lab in mid April. More juicy quotes to come.  
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