WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — An audit by the DC Auditor’s Office claimed that the District’s Forensic Lab “failed to achieve independence.”
The lab, which was launched in 2012, took the role of forensic processing away from the Metropolitan Police Department and made it the responsibility of the independent crime lab. But since its inception, the lab — which is operated by the Department of Forensic Sciences — has been plagued with problems.
According to the audit, DFS has failed to operate as an independent part of the criminal justice system. The audit blames, “weak legislation, lack of resources, and a decision by prosecutors to act outside the statutory oversight structure,” as key problems.
“The reason for the vision of having an independent forensics laboratory is to make sure the science is accurate to make sure there isn’t pressure from one side, or the other side,” said Patterson. “That’s the way of providing justice for victims of crime, a way of providing retribution.”
Two boards are designed to provide oversight of the lab.
One is the Science Advisory Board. The audit found that resources were not provided to allow the board to properly oversee the laboratory.
“You have an oversight entity that has great people, scientists on it, with no staff,” said Patterson.
The other is the Stakeholder Council. The audit found meeting requirements for the council were not met and that issues affecting the delivery of services by the lab were not discussed or resolved by the council.
Since its inception, the lab’s accreditation has been suspended twice — once in 2015 due to flaws in lab processes and again in 2021 for a variety of issues including engagement in fraudulent activities. The lab still remains unaccredited and is not directly processing any forensic evidence used to solve crimes.
The audit also explains that two main agencies which rely on the lab—The United States Attorney’s Office and the DC Attorney General’s Office—have lost trust in the lab’s ability to address complaints.
The audit states that both agencies “bypassed DFS processes and conducted unilateral investigations to address their issues without regard for the process established in District laws and regulations for DFS and SAB to handle the investigation of complaints. These unilateral investigations undermined the independence of the agency.”
Patterson recommended that the council amend legislation to provide resources and staff to the Science Advisory Board, allocate sufficient funding for the board and train staff to properly record and investigate complaints, among other things.
In response to the audit, City Administrator Kevin Donahue said, “The Executive’s highest priority regarding DFS is to support its ability to produce independent scientific results… We are committed to strengthening relationships and processes.”
DC News Now reached out to the AG’s Office and the USAO, as well as the Department of Forensic Sciences but did not hear back.
Council is currently considering legislation to restructure the forensics lab.