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746Fwd: SFGate: S.F. police hope officers can do drug testing

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  • Justin DeCastro
    Mar 21, 2010

      The original article can be found on SFGate.com here:
      Friday, March 19, 2010 (SF Chronicle)
      S.F. police hope officers can do drug testing
      Jaxon Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer

        (03-18) 17:39 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- The number of narcotics cases that San
      Francisco prosecutors have dropped since the Police Department's drug-lab
      scandal went public is up to 180, and the district attorney says more
      cases will be dismissed until the city's police officers can perform basic
      tests on seized evidence in lieu of the closed lab.
        The Police Department closed the lab March 9 amid suspicions that a
      technician there had been skimming and using cocaine. Since then,
      prosecutors say, about 30 cases a day have been dropped because no one has
      been able to test the drugs.
        Police recruited outside labs to test some samples, but those labs are
      focusing on major cases approaching trial and defendants who have
      extensive criminal histories. Prosecutors are being forced to drop lesser
      cases and are unable to arraign most drug suspects arrested by police.
        With the drug lab closed indefinitely, the department is giving crash
      courses in basic testing to officers in the narcotics and gang enforcement
      divisions, police spokeswoman Lt. Lyn Tomioka said Thursday.
        The tests, once officers start doing them, should provide the basis for
      prosecutors to file charges, she said.
        Chief George Gascón "would like everybody trained as soon as possible, if
      this works," Tomioka said. "This is a way to address the new crimes that
      are occurring."
        Brian Buckelew, spokesman for District Attorney Kamala Harris, said that
      until that happens, prosecutors will still have to turn about 30 suspects
      loose daily.
        Prosecutors face a judge's deadline of today to have drug evidence ready
      in 35 cases set to go to trial. Buckelew said he hopes that the outside
      labs that San Francisco has turned to will be able to finish that work in
        The turmoil at the lab began when lab officials were alerted to possible
      cocaine theft by a criminalist, Deborah Madden, 60. Her sister contacted a
      lab supervisor Dec. 16 to report what she believed to be a police vial of
      the drug inside Madden's San Mateo home.
        By then, Madden had gone on leave from the department and was undergoing
      drug and alcohol rehabilitation therapy. She retired March 1.
        The information from Madden's sister, along with a quick sampling that
      showed at least one sealed package of cocaine may have been tampered with,
      was forwarded to the legal section of the Police Department. A criminal
      investigation was not launched until Feb. 22, however.
        Madden has not been charged and has declined to comment.
        Two weeks before Madden left the department, the American Society of Crime
      Lab Directors did a certification audit of the police lab. It found, among
      other things, that the lab had failed to secure a computer documenting
      drug evidence from unauthorized access. It also found that drug lab
      equipment had been contaminated with leftover narcotics.
        Rather than issue a five-year extension on the crime lab's accreditation,
      the group gave police six months to fix the problems.
        It's unclear when police told auditors about the Madden case. Ralph
      Keaton, executive director of the lab directors group, said he learned
      about it only last week.
        "If there are any problems of a significant nature and the lab isn't
      notifying us, we will have to address it," Keaton said. His auditors will
      return to the crime lab in the next two weeks to do a follow-up

      E-mail Jaxon Van Derbeken at jvanderbeken@.... ----------------------------------------------------------------------
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                    JUSTIN DeCASTRO
             Live & Let Live! Love & Let Love!