State report cites failures at NY crime lab

AP News
Posted: Nov 10, 2011 5:14 PM
State report cites failures at NY crime lab

More than 10 percent of cases that underwent re-testing following the closure of a suburban New York crime lab earlier this year were found to have inconsistent results _ a figure the state inspector general called unacceptable in a report issued Thursday.

Inspector General Ellen Biben said she found systemic problems at the Nassau County crime lab that "went largely undetected, ignored, or were not properly addressed due to failures at all levels of the lab's management and oversight." She said she would recommend an expanded review of the lab's results.

"The chronic failures of the Nassau County crime lab deprived Nassau County, the criminal justice system, and the public of their right to have complete and unfettered confidence in forensic testing," Biben said.

Biben started her investigation earlier this year after Nassau County officials closed the lab amid concerns over inaccuracies with testing in drug arrest and drunken driving cases. Lab results from hundreds of cases are currently under review and at least two drunken driving convictions were thrown out as a result of the lab issues.

Since 2003, Biben found, the lab suffered from weak leadership, a dysfunctional quality management system, analysts with inconsistent training and qualifications, and outdated and incomplete testing equipment and procedures.

She noted that during a four-year period, the lab was twice placed on probation by a private accrediting agency, a sanction unprecedented among forensic laboratories in the state.

A spokesman for the Nassau County police department said officials would not immediately comment until they have an opportunity to review the findings, but District Attorney Kathleen Rice said the report "highlights the need for an independent civilian-run crime lab, state accreditation agency reform, and offers a welcome blueprint for returning the necessary credibility to our county's testing of forensic evidence."

Biben said she is recommending a "broader review of every area at the lab to ensure the reliability of the laboratory's conclusions."

She found that the when the police department leadership learned of problems at the lab, "they took little if any action and did not inform the Nassau County district attorney's office or the county executive, as they should have."

The report noted that the former county executive, Thomas Suozzi, relied on the police department to properly oversee the crime lab, "a dependence which proved unreliable." It also noted that Rice was also uninformed regarding the lab's problems, including its 2006 probation, until learning of significant problems in December 2010.

County officials have estimated that re-testing, currently being done by a private firm in Pennsylvania, is costing approximately $100,000 a month.