The New Professionalism: Detroit Crime Lab Edition

Friday, May 27th, 2011

This is just astonishing.

Thousands of rounds of live ammunition, sealed evidence kits and case files — some containing Social Security numbers of rape and assault victims — lay amid rubble in a crime lab abandoned by Detroit police two years ago.

The Free Press discovered the ruins this week. Judicial experts expressed shock that evidence would be handled so recklessly.

“It’s incomprehensible that any law enforcement agency would not be mindful to preserve evidence,” Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny said.

Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr., told about the crime lab Thursday, launched an immediate investigation. “I will make sure that this never happens again,” he said.

The lab, housed in a former elementary school in Brush Park, was ordered closed in 2008 because of sloppy investigations. It’s now littered with tools, computers, TVs, cameras and microscopes, in addition to the other items.

The lab was open to trespassers for at least the past week. Parts of a fence around the perimeter have collapsed, and a window was broken. As recently as Monday, the front door was ajar . . .

The Free Press asked a downtown real estate professional with more than 25 years of experience in corporate real estate and building management to look at the former crime lab for an opinion on whether it was secure.

The professional, who asked not to be named because his company does not permit him to be quoted in the news media, visited the building Thursday afternoon and easily walked through the broken fence.

“You could back up a truck and empty the building,” he said.

So they had to close the place for sloppy work. Then they just left it open, to weather, trespassers, and raccoons, evidence and all. But rest assured. Chief says, “I will make sure that this never happens again.” So there’s that.

Sad thing is, any innocent people rotting away in a Detroit prison are the ones who will pay for this colossal fuck-up. If there’s evidence that could prove your innocence that was once testable but due to state screw-ups goes missing or contaminated, you’re generally out of luck.

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21 Responses to “The New Professionalism: Detroit Crime Lab Edition”

  1. #1 |  Steve Verdon | 

    Just yet another example of how our government is so great. We are American’s dammit and nobody is as great as us and our wonderful government.

    Be sure to get out and vote people, it really makes things better.

  2. #2 |  DarkEFang | 

    Police forces rarely investigate cold cases, so all that evidence they store from previous cases has only one potential purpose: to exonerate wrongly convicted people. Why would we ever expect police and forensics labs to not destroy evidence that can only serve to embarrass them in the future? No one has ever been released from prison because the evidence from their case was missing, so there is no incentive to preserve it. The only thing this Detroit lab did differently from other forensics labs was to allow nature to destroy the evidence instead of doing it themselves.

  3. #3 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr., told about the crime lab Thursday, launched an immediate investigation. “I will make sure that this never happens again,” he said.

    LMAO! No, you dumb shit! It should never have happened the first time. If someone robs a liquor store, do you let them off if they promise to never do it again?

  4. #4 |  Robert | 

    I’m suprised that the ammo was still there.

  5. #5 |  Steve Sutton | 

    For those of us living in southeastern Michigan, this story is actually not that astonishing. Detroit has been the source of so many stories of government negligence and corruption nothing is a surprise.

    @Dave Krueger – The police chief’s promise is good because the Detroit Police crime lab was shut down in 2008 due to negligence and the work turned over to the state police. Highly unlikely they’ll get a crime lab opened any time in the future. Of course being Detroit, I shouldn’t be surprised if they actually allow a lab to open.

  6. #6 |  derfel cadarn | 

    The police chief and all his underlings should be charged with dereliction of duty,convicted and sent to prison,taxpayers can no longer condone such blatant disregard of public funds and duties by public servants. But watch what will happen NOTHING !!! What is wrong with this picture?

  7. #7 |  Mattocracy | 

    Once an elemantary school!? Everything about this is astonishing.

  8. #8 |  JS | 

    Steve Verdon #1, Great post! Pretty much sums it up.

  9. #9 |  Pasquin | 

    What terrible service. Somebody should open up a competing crime lab.

    Oh, wait, that would be illegal.

  10. #10 |  jcalton | 

    If you ever needed to verify that crime, poverty, and education are all inter-related, the fact that they didn’t take the microscope speaks volumes.

  11. #11 |  cApitalist | 

    Does this make anyone a little more open to the idea of a market in the provision of policing services? Who but a coercive monopolist could survive such blunders? Maybe the anarchists are onto something.

  12. #12 |  John P. | 

    Radley you need to do an article on the fall of crime labs in this country.

    IIRC in just the past few months/years San Frans crime lab has come under fire, a big one in NY (Westchester?) Miami’s, the FBI’s, Texas and Tennessee’s crime labs have all been accused of everything from fraud and falsification to hiring people unqualified to do the job.

    Heck TN’s chief medical examiner was just arrested for dope smuggling and evidence was produced he was not only stealing dope from the state crime lab but he was high while conducting autopsies and while testifying in court at murder trials.

  13. #13 |  John P. | 

    And don’t forget the New Orleans Crime lab…

  14. #14 |  Andrew Roth | 

    Re: #11:

    Competitive bids from private contractors might work, but only if there’s strong government oversight. Governments that have actually gotten good results from competitive bids for basic services (e.g., as the San Diego Area Governments have on bus services) might be able to contract out crime labs with goods results. Sadly,though, governments that clean and competent are a rarity, and they aren’t the ones that really need to reform their bureaucracies. I wouldn’t expect anything good to come of a train wreck of a city government like Detroit’s contracting out crime lab services, and the results in New Orleans or any of the places where the GOP has whored itself out to Diebold would be disastrous.

  15. #15 |  Andrew Roth | 

    Re: #12:

    Harris County, TX had a particularly notorious clusterfuck exposed a few years ago–especially bad news in a large county that likes to give people the needle.

  16. #16 |  CTD | 

    Sounds like they just locked the doors (maybe) and walked away one day. Amazing.

    I’m sure the thorough internal investigation will reveal who was responsible and punish them appropriately.

  17. #17 |  JS | 

    Come on, you all know that evidence is just a mere formality.

  18. #18 |  KBCraig | 

    About two years ago, a federal prison’s recycling operation (which takes scrap from just about any source), received a file cabinet from a law enforcement agency (I forget which agency).

    When they opened it, they found it was full of tagged evidence, including guns and ammunition.

  19. #19 |  Steve Sutton | 

    Update in today’s Detroit Free Press: http://goo.gl/X1rjk

    The current chief (Ralph Godbee), who was appointed last year, was directly assigned the task of securing and transferring items out of the closed lab by the previous chief (Warren Evans) when Godbee was an assistant chief. Apparently Godbee plans to investigate why he shirked his responsibilities. Mayor Dave Bing stated he has no plans to discipline Godbee. Nice.

    Unrelated but just to add to the carnival atmosphere in Detroit, the previous chief Evans was fired for his involvement with some reality TV shows that filmed raids conducted by the department. One of which resulted in the killing of a 12 year old girl. Evans was also dismissed for being romantically involved with a fellow officer. The funny thing is that Godbee was involved with the same officer but got promoted. Not sure who got sloppy seconds.

  20. #20 |  Pablo | 

    This story is sad on so many levels. As soon as I saw the words “Detroit crime lab” I knew what the story was.

  21. #21 |  VikingMoose | 

    it’s the real life version of “Police Squad”
    (paraphrased)
    Frank: oh look! the missing evidence in the Kellner case. He was innocent
    Ed: Frank, he went to the chair two years ago
    Frank: oh…

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