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Los Angeles

Police Lab Plans OKd Despite D.A.'s Criticism

Forensics: Cooley says proposed staffing for DNA and firearms analysis is inadequate.

June 28, 2002|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Over the objections of Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, the region's top police officials approved architectural plans for a new $96-million crime lab Thursday.

Cooley urged that staffing planned for firearms and DNA analysis be increased and that the building plans be revised to accommodate the larger staffs.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and interim Los Angeles Police Chief Martin Pomeroy said they will work to address Cooley's concerns. Each said the plan is flexible, and pledged to add more staff and space if they receive more funds.

"The architectural program is not an architectural finality," said Baca, who is embroiled in a heated battle with county supervisors over budget cuts. "The building is designed to accommodate change."

Cooley said that what he described as inadequate plans could hurt prosecution of criminal cases and result in an even larger backlog of unsolved cases.

"The most urgent needs now and in the foreseeable future are in the areas of DNA analysis and firearms work," Cooley said. "If these priorities are not addressed, the new crime lab will be obsolete the day it opens."

Pomeroy said he recognizes that DNA is a critical technological tool and that DNA criminalists could work in shifts at the new lab to maximize space. Baca and Pomeroy pledged to review unsolved sexual assault and rape cases in an attempt to reduce investigation backlogs.

Cooley said he believes that his points will be taken into consideration before the lab is built on the Cal State Los Angeles campus.

The LAPD has planned for 34 employees for its DNA section; Cooley projects that the department will need at least 72. The Sheriff's Department has planned for 15 firearms examiners and two technicians and needs at least 26, he said.

Construction is to begin in September 2003, and the five-floor building is scheduled to open in April 2005.

Several rape victims and advocates urged the officials to make the changes Cooley recommended. Rape survivor Jeri Elster told them that their decision would have an impact for years to come.

"The LAPD proposal for the new crime lab presently under consideration is deficient and will be antiquated upon opening its doors," Elster said.

After the vote, rape survivor Karen Pomer said she was disappointed. "I was hoping they would be more responsive," said Pomer, whose case was solved four years after she was attacked. "It doesn't make sense to me."

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