The lede pretty much tells you all you need to know:
The department's crime lab now has a decade-long backlog of more than 650 homicide investigations with unexamined evidence, yet it processes 95 percent of drug cases in just 24 hours.
In yet another takedown of the Oakland Police Department and everyone involved in its oversight, investigative reporter Ali Winston, writing in the East Bay Express, details how Oakland's Crime Lab has utterly failed to, well, solve crimes. Real crimes.
Which gives us a clue as to why Brandy Martell's murder a year and a half ago - and so many other murder cases in Oakland - remain unsolved and all but ignored.
Drug cases are processed because "they are easier" according to OPD Deputy Chief Outlaw. (They are also processed efficiently, I would venture, so that OPD can point to all their drug arrests as a way of extracting more War on Drugs and Homeland Security monies. Who, after all, is interested in justice when it's so much easier to fill prisons with drug offenders?)
Even given what we've come to expect from Oakland's low standards of police (mis)conduct and the total lack of accountibility and lack of oversight civilian officials - elected and appointed, specifics from the stae of the Crime Lab are shocking:
OPD crime lab director Mary Gibbons informed the city council's Public Safety Committee last month that the department had 659 homicide cases in which it still had evidence that needed testing.
...homicide investigations are in such disarray that the lab has no idea which of the cases with unexamined evidence have been closed or adjudicated.
By the end of 2006, OPD had lost all but one of its qualified firearms examiners... The staff reductions... also resulted in the shuttering of the Latent Print unit, which examines fingerprints found at crime scenes...
The misfortunes of Oakland's crime lab have been known for some time now. This isn't the first article by Winston detailing its shortcomings. So what is Oakland's City Council doing about it? Nothing, as usual.
Councilwoman Libby Schaaf... noted that the public's perception of supporting the police department has been - for better or worse - limited and driven by the fear of crime and the need for immediate security in the form of patrol officers. "When people focus on the police department, they look for the guns and the badges," she said.That's Leadership!
...even if Oakland does manage to hire additional personnel for the crime lab, the current facility is too small to accommodate that many people...
And then we have
Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney... pressed... for answers on the department's massive backlog of untested evidence in homicide cases... "I think we need to re-prioritize how we use officers as it pertains to arrests," McElhaney said.Of course McElhaney, who sits on the Public Safety Committee of the Oakland City Council and could presumably do something about her concerns, seems happy enough to have sixty some-odd officers surround Oscar Grant Plaza while people are singing Happy Birthday, instead of being out on patrol or investigating homicides.
She is more than happy to see more police hired - who cost the city $200,000+ dollars a year with overtime, benefits and support each - but the City is unwilling to hire crime lab investigators for a fraction of that salary. Winston writes that OPD officials complain that no one with sufficient skills is in the job market. Then pay them the salary you need to attract them!
There is no doubt that the Oakland Police have one of the most misguided allocation of resources algorithms one could imagine:
Eugene O'Donnell, who teaches criminology... said... "Whether having more uniformed police on the streets decreases crime is still open to debate - this [analyzing evidence in homicide cases] is not open to debate, that not catching people who need to be caught is denying families justice and endangering public safety."In Oakland's latest example of folly, instead of dealing with an issue that might make a tremendous difference in both the safety of Oakland's street and how the citizens of Oakland perceive their safety - getting murderers off the streets - the Oakland City Council Public Safety Committee will be devoting an upcoming meeting to the contentious issue of curfews for youth. Certain members of the Council wish to devote police resources to stopping young men and women - mostly of color - on the streets of Oakland to harass them because of their apparent age.
Oakland. The city that spends hundreds of millions on police and nothing on stopping violent crime.