IN-DEPTH: Council votes to move $12 million from APD budget to new forensic department

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin City Council voted Thursday to create a new forensics lab independent of the Austin Police Department.

The department’s old lab was shut down in 2016 after an audit by the Texas Forensic Science Commission found the lab was using forensic DNA standards that were scientifically unfounded.

Since then, the city has outsourced its DNA work to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The proposal includes moving almost $12 million from the police department’s budget into the new Forensic Science Department — to be overseen by Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk.

Marina Garrett, a sexual assault survivor, says she is happy to see the move.

“You want to heal and you also want to move forward,” Garrett said. “It is such a difficult thing to sit in that space of recounting your story and remembering it every day.”

For Garrett, it took years before the results of her kit came back.

“It took two years for my kit to come back,” said Garrett.

Her kit was one of the thousands backlogged. In 2016, the backlog grew to about 4,000 kits..

APD used $500,000 in their budget, $200,000 from a grant, to clear that backlog.

The police department announced in 2019 they would potentially be reopening dozens of rape investigations after they finally received results from more than 2,500 rape kits.

“We don’t want any more rape kit backlogs,” said Austin City Council member Greg Casar. “The lab will no longer be supervised by police officers, this crime lab which is a scientific lab will be supervised by a head scientist.”

“I think it creates an opportunity for a lot more transparency and accountability that we weren’t getting,” Garrett said.

A city spokesperson tells KXAN if approved, the creation of the New Forensic Sciences Department will not impact the agreement between the City of Austin and the Texas Department of Public Safety to perform DNA services.

The current agreement ends in 2022, however, discussions are in progress to extend the agreement according to a city spokesperson.

The independent forensics lab is item No. 32 on the Thursday’s council agenda.

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