Sept. 27, 2016 - University of Houston Law Center Professor Sandra Guerra Thompson's research on crime labs was recently recognized by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
President Barack Obama established the advisory council in 2009. It comprises the nation's top scientists and engineers who directly advise the president and the Executive Office of the President.
The council referenced Thompson's book, "Cops in Lab Coats: Curbing Wrongful Convictions through Independent Forensic Laboratories," in footnotes contained in its report on forensic science in criminal courts. Thompson's book was published in 2015 by the Carolina Academic Press, and tells the story of the Houston Police Department's lab and issues raised with forensic labs serving as a unit of a police department.
The report also praised the Houston Forensic Science Center, where Thompson served as a founding member of the board of directors and is currently vice chair.
"I am deeply gratified by the recognition for the book and for the Houston Forensic Science Center," Thompson said. "The now-defunct Houston Police Department's crime lab was once dubbed 'the worst crime lab in the country.' This is really exciting for many of us in Houston who have worked hard for the past four years to create an independent lab that is now considered one of the country's best."
The Houston Forensic Science Center is the only lab in the country that has implemented a cutting-edge quality control measure known as blind proficiency testing. Thompson said the new lab is unique in having been removed from the control of a police department.
Under new direction, the lab has implemented more efficient processes that have eliminated backlogs in DNA work on sexual assault kits.
In recognizing the work of the forensic center, which became independent from HPD in 2014, the council also praised its blind quality control efforts to ensure that lab analysts are doing accurate, unbiased work.
Thompson added the report already has sparked a national discussion, as it challenges the scientific validity and raises questions about the admissibility of certain types of forensic evidence, and speaks to a number of issues about crime labs and their protocols.