The Houston Police Department, like most others in the country, had long been responsible for the City of Houston’s forensic services, including crime scene investigation, DNA, latent prints and others. Mismanagement, poor training and a lack of resources caused recurring problems that led to wrongful convictions, the shutdown of the DNA laboratory, backlogs and a lack of public trust. In 2012, the City of Houston, at HPD’s behest, created the Houston Forensic Science Center as an independent local government corporation overseen by a nine-member board of directors. For two years, the board of directors in collaboration with the city and HPD created a framework to takeover management of the crime laboratory, the crime scene unit and parts of the identification division. HFSC officially took over management of those forensic services on April 3, 2014.
HFSC operates in seven disciplines, including forensic biology/DNA, seized drugs, toxicology, latent prints, crime scene, multimedia and firearms. It is considered a full-service laboratory and is one of the largest crime lab’s in the country.
HFSC completes about 30,000 requests a year and has more than 200 staff members. About three-quarters of the staff are women.
No. In Texas, the county is responsible for autopsies. The medical examiner’s office that oversees Houston is the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences. If a homicide occurs within city limits, the body goes to the medical examiner’s office and all the evidence on the body, including fingernail clippings, is analyzed by HFSC.
A nine-member board of directors made up of volunteer community members has full oversight, including fiduciary responsibility, of HFSC. Board members serve two year terms and the chair serves three years. The board members are appointed by the mayor of Houston and confirmed by City Council. They can serve multiple terms, however, cannot be removed mid-term unless they commit a felony offense. This setup is designed to provide HFSC a measure of political insulation.