SFPD drops drug testing from crime lab 

The San Francisco Police Department will indefinitely shed its scandal-plagued drug lab in an effort to renew its national accreditation for other areas of the crime lab, such as DNA and gunshot testing.

Despite a backlog of hundreds of cases and at least two incidents of corrupted control samples, state auditors found that the DNA-testing portion of the Police Department’s crime lab was “well organized and professional.”

The results mean that after the department sends the duties of the drug-testing portion of the lab to an outside facility, the rest of the crime lab should receive accreditation, police Chief George Gascón said at a news conference Wednesday.

“I think that we will have absolutely no problems getting accredited,” he said.

Gascón shut down the drug-testing lab March 9 after civilian employee Deborah Madden admitted to police that she skimmed cocaine from evidence. Though Madden has not been charged in connection with the alleged crime, the revelation has led to the dismissal of hundreds of drug cases.

Police have since been trained to test and weigh drugs themselves after arrests in order to make a 24-hour deadline for prosecutions. Other evidence has been outsourced to labs in San Mateo and Alameda counties.

The cost of farming out drug tests could be as much as $100 per sample. A recent audit of the drug lab found that more than 14,000 cases were tested by two or three employees at the drug lab every year, but police believe that number can be reduced by working with prosecutors to test only cases that are fought by defendants.

The department has said it plans to find a new home for its crime lab. The current location in Hunters Point has served as a temporary home since 1999 and the lease is up in 2015. Gascón has asked for a controller’s report that could shed light on how The City will pay for a new facility.

An audit also is under way by the state Department of Justice to assess the ballistics-testing portion of lab.

In the audit of the DNA-testing lab, state officials found that there were problems with communication, staffing and equipment. Auditors also faulted DNA lab technicians for destroying handwritten notes that could have served as preliminary documentation.

Two tainted DNA samples were revealed in late 2009, around the same time police began an investigation of Madden.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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Brent Begin

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