Austin police forensics lab moving forward

Months after the Austin police forensics lab fell under harsh scrutiny, officials are taking steps to get it back on track.

Months after the Austin police forensics lab fell under harsh scrutiny, officials are taking steps to get it back on track. 

For the first time, city officials are hiring a forensics director with deep scientific roots to oversee the entire facility.

The main focus on the APD forensics lab has been on the DNA section, but those issues did lead to questions about other scientific evidence like blood samples and even fingerprints.

Chief Brian Manley said the new hire will help make sure those forensic samples are of the highest quality to help put perpetrators behind bars.

This is a major shift for the department.

Since it was built in 2002, the forensics center has been run by law enforcement officers or civilians with no special scientific background.

But as the forensics industry has evolved so has the emphasis nationally to have scientists running the center.

Manley said he hopes this latest move will help instill confidence in the work of APD's lab. 

"This is just a step we are taking to show the importance with which we want our overall lab operation to be operated under and again, I think that the community deserves this and that is why we are demanding that the level of education and scientific background and prior experience for this position," Manley explained.

The department has not yet hired for the position but that process is ongoing after a national search.

Manley said the lab leader is expected to meet qualifications including a master's degree in chemistry or biology, with a preference of a Ph.D.

The salary will be negotiated.

As for the DNA portion of the lab -- it has been operated since this spring by the Texas Department of Public Safety through a contract with the city.

That contract will remain in place, but officials say the new forensics director will work closely with that agency.

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