The past few days have been busy ones for law enforcement in and around Austin, and not just because of South By So What. Here’s a quick survey of some things that I’ve found interesting.
There’s a new plan for the APD DNA lab: get Texas DPS to run it.
Under a proposed contract, the city of Austin will pay the Texas Department of Public Safety $800,000 a year to manage all aspects of the lab, including procedures for analyzing forensic evidence and the oversight of employees hired by the DPS to work there.
The newly named Department of Public Safety Capital Area Regional Lab will focus exclusively on Austin police cases, Assistant Police Chief Troy Gay said.
I suppose this is better than nothing, or the current state of affairs. And $800,000 sounds like a reasonable amount of money if the new management from DPS is going to fix all the problems and claw through the backlog. But I still think we’d be better off with an independent lab like Houston’s, or making the existing lab am arm of the courts.
Speaking of the DNA lab, here’s a story I haven’t seen reported anywhere else:
In the first legislation of its kind, the lawmaker, State Representative Victoria Neave, a Democrat from Dallas, introduced the bill in February to solicit donations of $1 or more from people when they renew or apply for driver’s licenses. The money would underwrite a grant for the Department of Public Safety to test what are commonly called “rape kits,” which consist of evidence samples including hair, semen, fabric fibers and skin cells.
(Note that the paper of record characterizes this as “crowdfunding”, which I find a bit misleading.)
If adopted, it could generate an estimated $1 million a year, based on similar donations collected for veterans from driver’s license applications, according to a legislative budget document. When administrative costs are deducted, that would leave more than $800,000 every fiscal year that local governments could tap to push through testing of evidence collected from the victims of sexual assault during a physical examination that can take four to six hours.
Where have I heard $800,000 recently? Oh, yeah.
The donations are intended to supplement rather than replace a budget for the testing, which can cost $1,000 to $1,500 for each kit. The Legislature, which is now in budget talks, is also considering allocating $4 million to fund the process, said Rebecca Acuna, Ms. Neave’s chief of staff.
You know what I’d really like to see? A breakdown of where that “$1,000 to $1,500 for each kit” goes. I’m not against rape kit testing – quite the opposite – but I’m curious why it costs that much. I’m also curious if this cost has increased or decreased over time, with improved technology. And are there possibly better, faster, and cheaper ways of testing rape kits without sacrificing accuracy?
If you look at the Stateman‘s handy Google map, you’ll see this took place not terribly far from the Lake Travis High School/Education Center complex. My mother and I were down there last night with a bunch of other people….attending the Lakeway Police Department’s Citzens Police Academy class. As a matter of fact, right around the time of the shooting, we were out in the parking lot looking at the Lakeway PD patrol cars (Chevy Tahoes. This led someone to ask, “Why the switch to SUVs?” I suspect most of my readers know the answer already, but in case you don’t: “Because Ford stopped making the Crown Vic, the greatest patrol car ever given to us by God.”) and the Lakeway PD police motorcycles (Harley Davidsons). I don’t recall hearing any shots or even the Starflight helicopter.
Even better, we had just finished listening to a presentation from one of the people who does the Lakeway PD statistical analysis about how safe Lakeway was, how many calls for service/stops/arrests there were year to year, and what the major categories were. “Homicide” didn’t even register. (Technically, it’s probably still true that Lakeway is relatively safe, even though the shooter is at large: I believe the shooting happened near, but outside of, the Lakeway city limits, so it would be chalked up as “unincorporated Travis County”.)
The first we knew about it was when we were breaking up for the night: the second in command of the department (who also runs the classes, and who usually jokes around a lot) came in and said “I want everyone to listen to me very closely. Two people have been shot near here and the shooter is still at large. We are going to walk everyone to the parking lot and make sure you all get into your cars safely. I need for you to leave the area as quickly as you possibly can.” That will put some spring in your step.
Reports are that this was “an isolated incident”, possibly a “disgruntled contractor” who shot these people because he didn’t get paid. Which is just stupid: if you shoot people, they can’t pay you.
And speaking of the Lakeway CPA, for reasons: a interesting and contrarian point of view from Grits For Breakfast in opposition to a statewide ban on “texting and driving”.