Crime lab integrity

Our view: An expeditious release of city crime lab audit should signal level of accountability

January 13, 2009

When the largest crime lab in Maryland messes up or does sloppy work, lives may be at stake. That's because the Baltimore Police Department's lab processes evidence from crime scenes that can lead to criminal charges, convictions or a guilty suspect walking free. Whether it's microscopic DNA from a bloody knife, fingerprints or bullet slugs, evidence must be carefully collected and preserved and the samples tested in accordance with the highest scientific and research practices. Confidence in lab results depends on the integrity of the process.

It's been more than a month since Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III received a report from independent auditors on problems at the department's crime lab discovered last summer. That review by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board found 15 "essential criteria" in which the lab was not in compliance with national standards. Mr. Bealefeld needs to make public the results of that review and the department's response as soon as possible.

That's the surest way to convince Baltimore residents that such sensitive information - evidence that could result in charges filed against the wrong suspect - is being handled properly and with the utmost regard to public safety. A recent request to make public the group's findings was refused because police said release of the full report would be "contrary to the public's interest." That seems highly unlikely.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says the commissioner plans to release the report as soon as the department finishes its responses to the audit's findings. That is not unlike how state audits are released with an agency's response included. The department's solutions to the lab's problems are as critical to ensuring its performance as identifying its problems. We expect Mr. Bealefeld's response to be forthcoming.

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