Build a better mousetrap--and some crook will soon figure out a way to use it to rip somebody off. Criminal minds are rarely more than half a step behind when inventors push the frontier of technology.
That's why it is important for law enforcement agencies to keep up with the latest scientific and technological tools, lest the deadly serious game of cops and robbers get too far out of balance.
We welcome the news that the Ventura County Sheriff's Department crime lab has worked hard to straighten out the problems that led to its license being suspended in 1997. Because the lab had continued to perform blood-alcohol tests despite failing a state proficiency test by the Department of Health Services, hundreds of drunk-driving cases were challenged in court.
Two years later, the lab has been shaped up significantly. New technology has been brought in to replace outdated equipment. An improved pay scale has allowed the lab to recruit better-qualified technicians. And Sheriff Bob Brooks is looking for an actual scientist, not just a technician, to direct the lab.
Last week, the lab became accredited to run its own DNA tests to match the genetic coding of hair follicles, blood and other body fluids found at crime scenes. Nearly a decade ago, Ventura County authorities were the first in California to use DNA evidence to obtain a murder conviction. These days, DNA tests are as important a tool for sleuths as Sherlock Holmes' magnifying glass. But because local investigators were forced to rely on an expensive private firm or a state lab with several months' backlog, the technology hasn't been used as often as it might have been. Now, local investigators can obtain evidence faster and for a fraction of the cost.
The next goal for the Ventura County Sheriff's Department crime lab is to become certified by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. Barely one-third of the crime labs in the nation have earned such accreditation, a mark of rigorous standards.
Our system of justice relies on solid information to help ensure that the guilty are convicted and the innocent are exonerated. A crime lab that can provide such information is an important tool. Even in a statistically safe county such as Ventura, it's crucial to keep the scientific advantage on the side of justice.