The San Francisco Police Department’s crime lab will undergo a “comprehensive audit,” following an investigation into the possible mishandling of narcotic evidence by a crime lab technician, police said today.
At an evening news conference to discuss the investigation, San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon said the crime lab will temporarily suspend its controlled substance testing at the lab.
Police said the department was alerted by a crime lab supervisor late last year that a lab employee may have taken narcotics for personal use. The information about 60-year-old Debbie Madden, a woman employed by the Police Department but who is not a police officer, triggered an internal audit and subsequent criminal investigation. She recently retired.
Police said the department met with the district attorney’s office to advise them of the investigation on Feb. 23 and interviewed Madden on Feb. 26.
Last Wednesday, police served a search warrant on Madden, who was arrested later that day by San Mateo sheriff’s deputies for possession of a firearm in violation of a restraining order in an unrelated case.
The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office said the investigation into the San Francisco case is ongoing and the office is still reviewing evidence.
Gascon said in interviewing Madden, she made allegations to investigators of unprofessional practices by others in the crime lab and that the Police Department is temporarily suspending its drug testing at the lab as an audit is conducted.
He said the allegations are, thus far, uncorroborated and that it appears any mishandling in the lab is isolated to Madden.
Gascon said it appears small amounts of cocaine were removed from evidence containers, but there was no fabrication of evidence.
However, Gascon said, “We are working with the district attorney and other criminal justice system entities to ensure that potentially affected criminal cases are reviewed and where necessary, that evidence is retested, to ensure that no compromising of evidence has taken place.”
He also said the department will revisit existing policies and procedures at the crime lab to ensure collection, testing, storage and destruction are conducted consistent with the industry “best practices.”
The San Francisco Police Department has asked the American Society of Crime Lab Directors and the California Association of Crime Lab Directors for their assistance in conducting an independent audit of the crime lab.
The San Francisco Police Department will be using external crime lab services from other Bay Area law enforcement agencies while the audit is conducted.
The Police Department’s crime lab is in the process of being re-accredited and has recently been assessed by the American Society of Crime Lab Directors. The organization’s draft report pointed to several areas where the crime lab can make improvements, and police said they will act quickly on those recommendations.