City police official calls crime lab criticism unfair

State's attorney's office noted drug case backlog

April 08, 2003|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A top-ranking Baltimore police official criticized yesterday comments by a spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office suggesting police were not properly correcting problems in the department's crime lab.

"I regret that [the issue of tests for suspected drugs] has to be dealt with in this way," said Chief Edwin Day, commander of the department's detective division. "The only people who get hurt in this are the people of Baltimore."

Day was responding to an article in yesterday's Sun that reported statistics showing city prosecutors were dropping an increasing number of drug cases because the crime lab was not providing them with basic test results. The number rose to 101 in January from the low 20s in November and December. Also, police and prosecutors reported in a study that test results were not completed by trial day in 28 percent of cases.

Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, had said: "We are concerned about this issue. ... How many meetings do we have to have? The bottom line is this needed to be done six months ago. It's about the allocation of resources. We're having lots of meetings, lots of ideas and no solutions."

Day said Burns' comments were unfair and that police were taking major steps to reduce backlogs and keep track of tests that determine whether suspected drugs are illegal narcotics.

Burns said yesterday that she stood by her earlier comments. "This is a resource issue that they need to address," she said, adding that the criticism from Day "comes with the territory."

Day also noted that the dropped cases represent a tiny portion of all drugs tested by the laboratory. The lab received more than 34,000 cases to test last year.

"It's unfortunate that the state's attorney is opting to take the issue to the media instead of dealing with the issue directly," Day said. "It was not a fair assessment of what the situation is."

Police said last week that they were taking steps to fix the process -- ranging from better training for prosecutors to receiving only one consolidated list, twice a day, for lab results. Prosecutors will set priorities for cases that need tests, officials said.

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