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Calif. police to shut down troubled drug testing lab

More than 600 drug cases have been dismissed

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco police said Wednesday they have decided to shut down their troubled drug testing lab and outsource the work.

The unit had been indefinitely shuttered since March 9, shortly after former lab technician Deborah Madden was accused of skimming cocaine evidence.

Prosecutors have dismissed more than 600 drug cases in the wake of the scandal. Madden has not been charged in the ongoing investigation.

Independent audits of the crime lab also found problems with mismanagement and understaffing.

Police drug-testing is currently being done by four outside labs.

Chief George Gascon said the decision to shut down the lab came after extensive discussions. The department will look for one outside lab to do the testing under police supervision, he said.

"We can certainly give the responsibility of the work to someone else, but we cannot give up the accountability," Gascon said. "We will remain vigilant. We will still control that process."

Gascon said drug testing was labor-intensive but could be contracted out at a reasonable price, though he didn't know exactly how much the outside testing would cost.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi said closing the drug testing unit was only the first step toward restoring public trust.

"I am still concerned that our city will still not have the benefit of an independent crime lab," Adachi said. "We need to examine the outside labs that the police department will rely upon."

Assistant Chief Jeff Godown, who was put in charge of the lab in March, said the drug testing unit could possibly reopen in the near future.

Godown said outside drug testing could cost about $100 per test. Having police officers do some preliminary testing could limited the number of outside tests to less than 4,000 a year, he said, noting the police lab did about 14,000 tests a year when it was operating.

The crime lab was expected to continue conducting DNA and ballistics tests. Gascon said the department would explore moving the lab to another site

Gascon said a state audit of the crime lab's DNA unit found only minor issues. The department intends to use outside labs to help reduce a backlog of DNA and firearms testing, he said.

"Today's audit results do not resolve my lingering concerns about the crime lab's DNA unit," Adachi said. "Contamination and failure to document testing are serious problems that still exist."

Police were criticized for their handling of a transgender prostitute's death after a published report last fall said DNA taken from her body remained untested in the city crime lab for more than two years.

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