Police have been weighing a lot of options in light of the SFPD drug lab debacle. Now weighing appears to be one of the solutions.
All 10 district stations will now be equipped with digital scales to allow officers to get an initial weight of drug evidence seized in busts. The drugs will then be sent to one of three outside crime labs that have been testing those drugs since police Chief George Gascón shuttered the controlled-substance testing lab on March 9.
The method is common practice in other police departments and it could’ve softened the impact of alleged tampering by Deborah Madden, a 29-year veteran of the lab who is accused of stealing drugs from evidence.
Officers have been training to use and calibrate scales as well as training to test drugs for their legitimacy, a technique called presumptive testing that is also widely used across the nation.
“That was one of the things that the officers weren’t doing that other counties were, so we went out and bought the scales,” Gascón said.
Prosecutors have already taken a handful of drug cases to court because the evidence was initially tested at a San Francisco police station, according to District Attorney’s office spokesman Brian Buckelew. At least 423 cases have been put on hold because police could not test the evidence within the 48 hours required by the court.
“It’s starting to get off the ground,” Buckelew said.
Another 285 cases have been dismissed, mostly because of Madden’s involvement in testing the evidence. A second opinion of weight may have helped those cases survive.
Jim Norris, a former SFPD crime lab director, said the department had once ordered officers to weigh drugs on their own, but that the scales would often lose calibration and weights would be much different than what was weighed at the crime lab.
“Not that it’s a bad idea,” Norris said. “A lot of places actually do that. It’s a reasonable quality-control check and it would cut down tampering in the lab.”
Gascón said the protocols for weighing drugs will be strict. It would involve a sergeant to supervise and evidence would be sealed after it is tested and weighed.