AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s new Forensic Science Department won’t be established as an independent entity, separate from the Austin Police Department as soon as expected.
Earlier this year, Austin City Council voted to move $12 million out of the Austin Police Department’s budget in order to create an independent forensics lab, as part of efforts to “Reimagine Public Safety.”
The lab will be run by the Forensic Science Department.
In May, Executive Director of the APD Forensic Science Bureau and soon-to-be Forensic Science Department Director Dana Kadavy said the new department would be established by July 1.
However, on Wednesday the City of Austin told KXAN in a statement, “The transition to the Forensic Science Department is still being finalized administratively. The city manager will determine the actual transition date once that process is complete.”
The new department will eventually run the DNA crime lab where APD evidence is processed, completely independent from police. However, the Department of Public Safety is currently under contract to handle all crime lab work for APD, so that contract will have to end before the Forensic Science Department takes over.
The changes came after quality issues were found in APD’s old crime lab — thousands of rape kits were backlogged there and a number of cases, potentially hundreds, were mishandled.
The Forensic Science Department will be directly under the Austin City Manager’s Office.
Austin City Council Member Greg Casar pushed for an independent forensics department, citing a 2009 National Academies of Sciences report to Congress recommending all forensics labs be separate from police departments.
“It’s really important for us to make sure that this lab is independent, is run at the very top by science and not biased any given direction,” Casar said. “That way, people who are innocent are exonerated, and people who are guilty are held accountable.”
Casar believes separating the department from APD will allow for better monitoring and transparency.
“I think as an independent department that isn’t buried away somewhere, it can have that level of visibility, where the city is watching and making sure that we hold that department, like our other departments, to the highest standards possible.”
Casar added even though Dr. Kadavy was hired to direct those who work in the lab while it was still under APD’s purview, he feels she will still direct the change that’s needed.
“Dr. Kadavy was brought in after the lab was shut down,” Casar said. “She was brought in to bring in that scientific expertise after several other heads or potential heads weren’t found to have the level of scientific expertise that we expect at the city.”
On Wednesday, the Travis County District Attorney’s Office told KXAN in a statement, “The Travis County District Attorney’s office looks forward to working closely with the new Forensic Science Department as it sets an example nationwide and is held to the highest standards.”