Best Boondoggle - 2013
St. Paul Crime Lab
"Where's your proof?" "Wikipedia." By Best Boondoggle, of course, we mean biggest, or perhaps most embarrassing, and for that we look to the troubled St. Paul police crime lab, which in the last year has come under fire for widespread problems related to the training and skill level of its staff, poorly maintained equipment, and procedural oversights. Other problems revealed in subsequent investigations and audits have included a lack of secure evidence handling, a criminalist testifying that she sometimes used the same tool on multiple samples, potentially resulting in contamination, and staffers admitting having used Wikipedia as a "technical reference" in at least one case. The problems were first revealed last year when public defenders in Dakota County District Court challenged the lab's scientific veracity. Initially, the concern was over drug testing in the lab, which was stopped, but consultants have more recently found significant errors in almost every area of the lab's work, including fingerprint and crime-scene evidence processing, data security, mislabeled and poorly documented case files, and violations of federal safety and health requirements. Public defenders are now seeking reexamination of evidence, or in some cases are asking that evidence be thrown out, and cases that resulted in convictions dating back to July 1, 2010, will be reviewed. That doesn't include cases in which defendants pleaded guilty, though some of these may be considered if brought forward by the public defender's office. While few of the reexamined cases thus far have shown results that conflict with initial findings, there have been exceptions, including a case where an initial positive result for drugs has been contradicted. The whole thing leaves quite a bruise on the integrity of our community's legal system. The City Council has agreed to give $1 million to the lab to hire new personnel and move toward accreditation, and to nearly double its measly annual budget from $800,000 to $1.5 million. Let's hope they put it to good use.