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LAPD will brief panel weekly on fingerprint unit

In first session, deputy chief cites problems but gives little detail.

November 18, 2008|Joel Rubin | Rubin is a Times staff writer.

Amid ongoing scrutiny of its crime laboratory, the Los Angeles Police Department will deliver weekly reports to a City Council committee on efforts to correct problems in the department's troubled fingerprint unit.

After The Times reported last month about a confidential LAPD audit that highlighted mistakes and inadequacies in the Latent Print Unit, the council's Public Safety Committee called on department officials for an accounting.

On Monday, LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck briefed the committee on the early stages of an investigation into the fingerprint unit. Citing a lawsuit against the department filed recently by a woman who was misidentified as a suspect in a crime through faulty fingerprint work, Beck declined to go into much detail.

He touched, however, on problems with the unit's supervision, facilities and quality control checks.

"There are a number of things we know we need to do," Beck told the committee, which is chaired by Councilman Jack Weiss. "And we are not by any means done with our research on this."

Beck will give the committee weekly briefings. He and other LAPD officials already update the committee each week on efforts to clear the department's backlog of unexamined DNA evidence from rapes and other violent crimes.

The print unit identifies thousands of possible suspects each year by comparing fingerprints and palm prints found at crime scenes to those of known offenders.

In another article, published Monday, The Times detailed long-running problems that have plagued the unit, including the use of a converted kitchen as work space and frequent turnover of supervisors. Poor handling of evidence has often resulted in misplaced fingerprint files.

The lawsuit was filed in recent weeks in U.S. District Court by Latonya McIntyre, who was extradited from Alabama and charged by the LAPD with committing a burglary after the fingerprint specialists concluded that they had matched McIntyre's prints to those found at the crime scene. After McIntyre spent a week in jail and posted bail, it was determined that the prints did not match.

According to court records, McIntyre is seeking to have the lawsuit classified as a class action to include others who may have been wrongly identified by the LAPD. In its internal audit, the LAPD cited one other known case of misidentification, in which another woman was wrongly charged in a burglary based on faulty print work.

Beck told the committee that the LAPD was reviewing the past work of several specialists who were involved in those two cases. He left open the possibility that he would expand the review to include others in the unit.

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joel.rubin@latimes.com

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