This is shaping up to be a busy weekend, but I have a little bit of time this morning and wanted to make note of one major and one minor story.
Major story: the Austin Police Department has temporarily suspended DNA testing at their lab.
This is the same lab that RoadRich and I toured as part of our CPA class; they may have been blowing smoke, but one of the things that stood out to us was how seriously the APD lab took their certifications, and how much effort they put into getting things right.
So what’s going on? It looks like three things:
1) Unspecified concerns raised by the Texas Forensic Science Commission.
Police officials, who were working Friday to determine how best to proceed, said the commission raised concerns about calculations and formulas the lab was using in conducting DNA analysis, but said they didn’t know specifics.
Officials had already scaled back lab operations in recent weeks — its staff were only screening evidence for DNA but were no longer doing analysis — and asked state forensic experts to evaluate the lab’s operation amid concerns about its operations.
Gay said Friday that he hasn’t received a formal notification from the state about the outcome of the experts’ inquiry, but that, based on phone conversations, “there are some challenges in front of us”.
2) There’s also a leadership gap. Apparently, the civilian lab supervisor (who goes unnamed in the Statesman) recently passed away, and had been out on leave for a while before that.
3) I’m a little confused by this part, and would love to find an “explain like I’m 5” piece on it: apparently, the Feds have issued new standards for doing DNA probability calculations, and a lot of labs – not just Austin – are struggling to implement them. This is something that was specifically mentioned as an issue on our tour:
FBI officials last year notified crime labs across the country that they were using outdated methods to examine samples containing genetic material from multiple people — methods that often led expert witnesses to greatly overstate the reliability of that evidence in court.
The use of outdated protocols to interpret test results means an expert witness might have told jurors that the chances are 1 in more than a billion that the genetic material in question belonged to someone other than the defendant, when those odds are more like 1 in 100.
So the lab has to go through and do a bunch of recalculation on a bunch of existing cases (around 1,300). And that apparently requires things like software updates (which I gather aren’t as simple as “download a .ZIPed EXE file and run it” when you’re dealing with forensic gear) and additional new training for the people doing the work.
All of this is going to take time: they’re speculating four to six months. In the meantime, DNA samples are going to be sent either to private labs or the Texas DPS lab for analysis.
…the lab’s backlog of cases awaiting DNA analysis has risen to about 1,300, the most in the past five years.
First reported by the Tampa Bay Times, Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, posted a “sources sought” solicitation for non-standard weapons on a federal contracting site early last month. In April, the command posted a similar notice for non-standard weapon ammunition. The term “non standard” is used for weapons not frequently employed by the United States or its NATO allies.
What kind of “non-standard” weapons and ammo? AK-47s. Yes, WP, yes, journalist’s guide to firearm identification, but it seems like this is for real AK-47s:
SOCOM’s solicitation includes weapons such as the iconic “AK-47″ rifle, a catchall designator for Kalashnikov-variant rifles designed to fire a certain type of ammunition and often identified by their distinctive curved magazines. Other weapons include the SVD, a unique looking sniper rifle that has likely killed thousands of U.S. troops since it was first introduced in the years leading up to the Vietnam War. Additionally, Russian medium and heavy machine guns as well as 14.5mm aircraft guns are included in the notice.
This makes sense, in a way. As the article explains, we’re arming foreign troops, but giving them distinctively US-made weapons (like the M4) puts a target on their back: “Although likely more accurate than their Soviet-style counterparts, U.S. weapons can make the fighters carrying them targets for other factions.” Plus: “U.S. weapons can also be difficult to maintain,” (Really?!) “prompting Special Operations Command and the CIA to procure and supply weapons that their allies are used to fighting with, such as Kalashnikovs.”
The thing that makes me wonder about this story: I’m sure we’ve all heard (I’ve even linked to) stories about secret CIA/SOCOM warehouses filled to the rafters with captured AK-47s intended to arm foreign troops while maintaining plausible deniability. So why does SOCOM need contracts to produce new ones? Are the warehouses running low? Are the ones in the warehouses poorly made or shot to heck, and SOCOM thinks they’re better off getting new ones that are assembled to tighter tolerances? (Sort of a Smith and Wesson vs. Taurus comparison, but for AK’s? Okay, that was a cheap shot.)