San Francisco’s besieged crime lab is back in the news once again.

And while the scandal involving Deborah Madden, stolen cocaine and nearly 700 dropped cases may be behind us, new – and potentially just as serious – concerns regarding the lab are being raised.

SFPD Lacking Resources

From the lab’s gross understaffing to the fact we’re paying $150,000 a month to outsource evidence (because of insufficient staff) to the seven-year-old, $140,000 DNA analyzer collecting dust in the lab, it’s clear that one of the primary tools for keeping San Franciscans safe is – as the SF Examiner stated – “losing ground.”

According to the San Francisco Police Department, it would take 11 people to fully staff the crime lab. However, instead of hiring another supervisor and two more criminalists as former police chief – and appointed district attorney – George Gascon promised to do close to a year ago, the staff has actually shrunk from six down to four. That puts an incredible burden on those hard-working staff members. According to a spokesman, that translates into roughly 20 cases per analyst, which is much higher than a standard caseload.
In order to avoid a DNA backlog that has, at times, reached an incredible 500, the department sends some 30 cases every month to a private firm in Richmond, costing San Francisco $150,000 or $1.8 million per year.

Using Available Government 2.0 Resources

Beyond this, however, is the sad and lonely image of an advanced piece of technology sitting alone on a desktop waiting to be plugged in. In the seven years since purchasing the ABI Prism 3100 – a DNA analyzer that can process 16 samples at one time (a lot considering staff are currently able to analyze just one at a time) – it’s job has been little more than a glorified paperweight. The machine was not initially set up correctly nor was staffed properly trained to use it. Nearly eight months ago, the SFPD said the machine was ready for testing. Only, that hasn’t happened yet and it will take six months to a year once testing begins. And there’s no indication of when testing will start.

Reset San Francisco believes strongly in and advocates for the advancement of Government 2.0 in our city. Gov 2.0 is predicated on utilizing data sets not just to see where problems are, but how we can use resources to address them. What better data set is there in the world than a DNA sample? Yet we can’t plug in the machine to help us expedite and extract extremely vital data.

We’ve seen cases of violent offenders repeating their crimes simply because the understaffed, overworked and backlogged crime lab hadn’t processed their data in a timely manner. That undercuts the entire basis of their existence – to help keep us safe.

The SFPD says they are close to hiring two more technicians and are looking to hire more since the Department of Human Resources agreed to allow that. But that still doesn’t help reach the department’s full staff capacity of eleven. And it doesn’t allow it to use it’s precious data in a more expedient way.

Focusing on the available in-house technology (or at least plugging it in) seems to make more sense than hemorrhaging $150,000 a month. What do you think?