Audit underscores security issues with San Diego crime lab
Speaker 1: (00:00)
An audit of the San Diego regional crime laboratory has revealed major lapses in security and testing protocols over the past several years, the audit, which lasted nearly 18 months underscores a number of key issues and the overall operation of the lab issues that may even cast doubt on the credibility of evidence used in previous criminal cases. Joining me now with more is Greg Moran, who covers criminal justice and legal affairs for the San Diego union Tribune. Greg, welcome back to the program. Thanks. Good
Speaker 2: (00:32)
To be here. What was
Speaker 1: (00:33)
The reasoning for this audit in the first place?
Speaker 2: (00:36)
This was a fairly routine audit that the department of justice, the federal department of justice does to crime laboratories around the country that participate in a very large, uh, DNA database system called Kodesh, which is kind of the major repository for information on people who've been arrested or convicted for crimes around the country that various police departments and Sheriff's departments can kind of tap into to see if a DNA profile they have matches anybody who's been previously convicted. So the FBI wants to make sure that crime labs are operating to the federal standards to participate in this program. And periodically they will go to labs and do an audit. What are
Speaker 1: (01:16)
Some of the major red flags that auditors found?
Speaker 2: (01:19)
Well, this audit was conducted in 2018, and while they found a lot of compliance and good meeting of standards by the lab, they worked troubled by one thing in particular, which is sort of the security aspect. Um, and in particular, they found that the San Diego crime lab really had poor control over who had access and who didn't to the lab itself. Mostly that was in the form of who had a sort of electronic key cards, which is the way you get in and out of the lab. There was no, apparently a comprehensive versus systematic way to keep track of who had these cards and who didn't. And when people who no longer had business at the lab, either private contractors who would do work once in a while, or employees who work there and then left their key cards, remained active for a very long time. And in one case, as long as 14 years, this raises questions about the security of the lab who can get in and who can not. And obviously when you're dealing with evidence in criminal cases, that's a real concern. Why
Speaker 1: (02:18)
Did this audit take so long to complete they've finished
Speaker 2: (02:21)
Most of it, but this question about the key carts in the security, just kind of lingered for a long time, the auditor said, look, here's our finding you, you don't, uh, have a real tight control over this access point, please, uh, let us know how you're going to fix it and tell us. And either that information didn't get communicated to the auditors or they got it. And then didn't inform the FBI and people. But, uh, it was at least a year before, um, the auditors who had done this communicated again with the county, with the crime lab and said, look, what have you done to reconcile or to resolve this error? And then the county was able to kind of get them the information that's at. This is what we're doing now. This is sort of our new process and things like that, but it just took a long time for people to kind of tie that one down, have
Speaker 1: (03:09)
Lab officials contested the findings at all
Speaker 2: (03:12)
Those, um, they acknowledged, and I think they kind of embarrassed. Uh, if you sort of read their formal response that they did not have a real good control over this now in their defense, they said, look, this audit was done at what was the laboratory's old building there for many years, the lab was in a small building on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. And then in late 2018, they moved into this brand new a hundred million dollar five story building on the county campus. And part of their response was when we get into that new building, you know, we'll have new security procedures, the old key cards won't work anymore. You know, we'll really tie it down, but yeah, they didn't contest the fact that they had not kept very good track at all of those key cards and who could get in and who could get,
Speaker 1: (03:59)
What does this audit say about the overall quality control at the San Diego crime lab? Is this indicative of further issues that could be going on?
Speaker 2: (04:09)
Well, they didn't go that far. The artists did not go that far. This is pretty a narrowly focused, you know, review of procedures, but this audit take it in the context of other records and documents. Um, previous audits and assessments that were done by other entities, some information that has come out in court cases and stuff shows that this is not an outlier. When we let's say that, you know, the, the, the lab it's become apparent, you know, on and off over the years has had problems with testing results with this access kind of issue with personnel and things like that. And it's not widely known, you know, they're, they're a real key part of the criminal justice system, but a lot of what happens in the lab and what comes out of there, isn't heavily scrutinized. And this particular lapse insecurity seemed to be, to me at least, you know, a piece of a larger view of the lab that it, uh, has had, you know, some rough patches over the years that it's unknown if it's effected any cases, but it's certainly a cause for concern, you know, I talked to one expert who said, look, there's no lab in the country.
Speaker 2: (05:11)
That's perfect that doesn't have any findings or, or doesn't have any problems, but here, you know, the issue is kind of like, well, if these are the things that they're finding, what are the things that they could be missing?
Speaker 1: (05:21)
Do these problems present any issues for the labs inclusion into the larger FBI database?
Speaker 2: (05:27)
No. And that's a great question. No, they were, they were still able to pertain their accreditation and their approval to participate in this. I mean, overall I think that the artists here by the federal government found that, you know, generally they were complying with most of the requirements to participate in it and they certainly haven't been, you know, suspended or taken out of the system. They can still access codas. So no, they're, they're still part of it. Um, I just think it was kind of, as you said, these were kind of red flags that you wanted to kind of send up and say, Hey, you know, you really need to kind of tie this down.
Speaker 1: (05:58)
So is there the chance that some of these issues raised here could cast doubt on evidence used in previous criminal case?
Speaker 2: (06:06)
Well, that's really the question, isn't it? Uh, unfortunately I don't have a great answer. So, uh, I mean, you know, a lot of the things that, I mean, this audit was three years ago, I reviewed and read through other artists that are as long as 15 or 20 years ago. Um, so, but at this point, I don't know of any case other than, uh, there's a case pending up in, uh, uh, north county, which kind of began to reveal a lot of the problems with the labs. But I don't know of any case right now where somebody said, Hey, you know, I want somebody to take a look at my case because it could have been affected by these kinds of lapses or errors or mistakes. However, that's not to say that there isn't one out there it's, um, kind of, uh, I don't know any of the defense lawyers who are pushing forward in the DA's office, isn't really moving to, to go and review a lot of cases that either individual criminalists whose work may have been, has been, uh, subject to scrutiny or overall processes, the lab have affected, they're kind of leaving it in the hands of the defense lawyers who kind of say, well, it was a long time ago.
Speaker 2: (07:09)
We don't know what criminalist worked on our case where things like that.
Speaker 1: (07:13)
I've been speaking with Greg Moran who covers criminal justice and legal affairs for the San Diego union Tribune. Greg, thank you very much for joining us. You're welcome.
Speaker 3: (07:25)
Findings included an outdated and poorly kept keycard security system, as well as instances of switched forensic samples.
The audit, which lasted nearly 18 months, was initiated to see if the lab was operating to federal standards put in place for use of a nationwide FBI evidence database.
While the District Attorney's office has not indicated that it will open up any previous cases in light of the findings, the lapses in oversight indicate possible issues with quality control in the lab overall.