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El Paso's Crime Lab Put on Accreditation Probation

EL PASO, Texas --

The El Paso Police Department’s crime lab has been placed on probation by the organization that accredits crime labs across the nation, and city officials said Thursday they were not aware.

The EPPD crime lab was put on probation on June 24 by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board, according to the group website. It is the only active crime lab in the nation on probation.

Police Chief Greg Allen scheduled a press conference for 10 a.m. Thursday where he spoke the crime lab’s accreditation. Even though the lab was placed on probation almost two weeks ago, city elected officials were not made aware of it.

When Mayor John Cook was asked Thursday morning if he had been told about the matter, he said, “By the El Paso Times.”

Cook said the police and fire departments in the past have been slow to inform him of issues of public interest, although he thought the problem was getting better.

“This is a case where the ball was dropped,” Cook said.

City Rep. Steve Ortega said he received an email stamped 8:54 p.m. Wednesday from Detective Mike Baranyay informing him of a press conference Thursday morning, but little else.

“My assumption is that it’s not that big of a deal because we haven’t been informed of anything,” Ortega said.

However, if problems at the crime lab turn out to be significant, Ortega said, he and his colleagues on the City Council will want to know why they weren’t told anything sooner.

The EPPD lab handles evidence in hundreds of cases and it is unknown what impact probation could have on current and past criminal cases, though the issue has the potential to be pounced on by defense lawyers.

The crime lab provides El Paso police and other agencies “with state of the art forensic qualitative analytical analysis and expert testimony related to the investigation and resolution of criminal matters in the forensic discipline of controlled substance analysis,” the police website stated.

According to EPPD its crime lab is on probabation until September 2.

The decision to place the El Paso Police Department Controlled Substance Crime Lab on probation was made on June 27, 2011, after an assessment team from the accreditation board raised several concerns regarding the handling of controlled substances analysis, said police.

The Laboratory Accreditation Board has given the police department until July 11, 2011, to provide a plan of action to address the concerns related to the work in the laboratory.

Until the probation status is lifted, all controlled substance testing required to prosecute police department cases will be conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety. The suspension does not include marijuana testing, police said.

The organization, according to its website, has accredited 385 crime labs around the world, including 128 local agency labs, 192 state labs and 23 federal labs. The agency has also accredited 156 crime labs under its International Testing Program.

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