Monday, December 10, 2001
LAPD, Sheriff’s Department to Work Together for Regional Crime Lab
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department appeared to have put their differences behind them to work on getting the county’s regional crime lab rolling after five years of discussion, as the project’s managing body held its first meeting Friday.
District Attorney Steve Cooley called the meeting of the Los Angeles Regional Crime Laboratory Facility Authority a “historic day” as members said it is time to push aside departmental divides and get to work on the planned 213,000-square-foot laboratory.
“This didn’t happen overnight,” former county Supervisor Ed Edelman said. “This project has a long history. It’s a history of some difficulty, but of mostly cooperation.”
The $96 million facility, to be housed at California State University, Los Angeles, would be home to both the Sheriff and the LAPD’s forensic operations, as well as the university’s criminalistics masters program.
“I’m ecstatic about how you’ve been able to work together,” Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, said.
Sheriff Lee Baca was assigned chairman of the panel, a position which will rotate on an annual basis, and Police Chief Bernard Parks was elected vice-chair.
County Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen, who was elected the panel’s secretary, City Administrative Officer Bill Fujioka, and Dr. Steven Garcia, vice president of Administration and Finance at California State University, Los Angeles round out the five-member board of directors.
The Authority, created in July by the Board of Supervisors and the City Council, is charged with overseeing the planning and construction of the new crime lab.
Debate has raged over whether the crime lab will be a single facility used by both departments or a single building split into a sheriff’s side and an LAPD side, with both departments historically leaning toward keeping separate quarters.
A resource sharing committee, made up of both departments, has been meeting since July to determine what resources can be shared.
Some state-of-the-art equipment will be shared, Baca said, but only those pieces of equipment that can be “effectively” shared will be shared.
“If you have to share microscopes, we’re in deep trouble,” Baca told the MetNews. “Each criminalist is going to have their own toolbox of equipment that is not going to be shared.”
Members of the Authority first voted to make the resource sharing committee a standing committee, but later rescinded the vote after Janssen suggested all the committees should be considered at one time and not individually.
District Attorney Steve Cooley, who does not sit on the Authority, created an independent advisory board in June for crime labs across the county, including the regional crime lab.
Cooley insisted his panel, which is made up of representatives of law enforcement, victims’ advocate groups, prosecutors, defense attorneys and academics, remain absolutely independent from the Authority since his board has a much broader mission than construction the regional crime lab. While his panel would provide opinions and insight on the construction of the facility, he said the voluntary group will continue to meet long after the building is built.
“We have no authority other than the power of persuasion,” Cooley said.
But Fujioka objected, saying the panel should be an official subcommittee of the Authority to avoid having two separate entities going on two separate tracks.
“That is unacceptable,” Cooley said, noting that his group would provide meeting minutes and a mission statement to the Authority, but will remain separate.
Baca smoothed over the rift by chiding the group for not seeing how important the District Attorney’s Office is to the success of the project, since it ultimately benefits from the lab’s work.
“The growth of our relationship depends purely on our ability to understand one another’s perspective,” Baca said.
“It’s a critical step and I don’t think we’ve taken enough effort in doing that,” he said.
Baca suggested that deputy district attorneys could be housed in the new facility to keep them involved in the policies and procedures. He also asked the Authority to let him, along with Parks, to talk with Cooley about how his panel’s work could be presented to the Authority. Baca will report back to the panel in January on his conversations with Cooley.
In March 2000, California voters failed to approve Proposition 15, which would have provided $220 million to locally funded crime labs. While the measure was defeated statewide, voters in Los Angeles county overwhelmingly approved, prompting Baca to go to Sacramento and ask for state money.
In October 2000, the state legislature approved $96 million out of the general fund. But the state’s budget crunch pushed Gov. Gray Davis to take only $14 million out of the general fund for the project and the remaining $82 million was replaced by debt financing.
Hertzberg, former chair of the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, told the Authority he was committed to seeing the project through.
“We’re going to build it and get it done,” Hertzberg said.
The $82 million will be available in 2003, when groundbreaking is expected to occur. Project advocates say the delay in getting the money will not delay the project.
“We do not anticipate any negative effect on this project,” Mallon said.
Baca said he was not upset with the change in funding, given the state’s financial crisis.
The state has already sent $1.3 million of the general fund money, which will be used for early stage programming, Sheriff Cmdr. Patrick Mallon told the Authority.
The remaining general fund money is enough to pay for a construction management program and the architectural design, Mallon said.
In its first financial decision, the Authority awarded two contracts, for a total of of $877,000 for architectural planning and management.
The Authority will hold public monthly meetings at 8 a.m. the last Thursday of every month. Its next meeting is January 31.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company