Thursday, May 06, 2004

The last Jill Leovy gang piece I read in the LAT gave me vertigo. It read like it was edited through a shredder. You can read my comments in the archives, but basically it was about a couple of guns that were used in a bunch of shootings and the shootings may or may not have been done by the same "cell of shooters" or different groups of people and then the people were arrested and the guns confiscated but the shootings continued - - - and that's when I felt like Jimmy Stewart chasing Kim Novak up the bell tower.

Her latest (5/5/04) doesn't move the confuso-meter needle at all. It partially addresses an issue that's been hamstringing detectives for years -- the glacially slow processing of ballistics evidence by the LAPD crime lab. Years ago, a D2 told me he once waited nine months to get a lab report on a murder weapon.

Chief Bratton and the city council have addressed the problems with the crime lab and help is on the way. But in the meantime, detectives patiently wait and hope their wits and informants don't die of old age before the lab results come back.

Leovy's article reported on the lab's new WALK-IN-WEDNESDAY policy. Every Wednesday, detectives from all over the city can bring in evidence and get nearly instantaneous service. This to short circuit a process that currently has a backlog of 2400 firearms tests. Another detective told me that cases are literally dying on the vine thanks to the backlog. Unlike TV shows, investigators don't get lab results back after the next commercial break. They get them at the next ice age. This is the reality of LA style crime-fighting.

Don't start blaming government workers, though. The lab techs are not skateboarding through the halls and watching TV on city time. There just aren't enough of them. And the equipment is old. And the pay isn't very good. An entry level gun tech gets paid around $27,000 a year. And you need a minimum of a BS to qualify for that breathtaking salary. Imagine the recruiting pitch. "The pay sucks, the equipment you'll be using was already old in the first season of Adam-12 and you'll have lots and lots of unpaid overtime. Sign right here."

As Leovy relates in her article, WALK-IN-WEDNESDAY is already producing results. Read it to find out how. But imagine what the positive fallout might be if fast lab results were the rule rather than a once a week exception.

The other part of her article profiles the crime lab's ace shell casing analyst, RICHARD SMITH. Smith, a sworn officer, sort of fell into the job after 11 years on the street. And he discovered he was terrific at analyzing spent brass. He's now considered one of the best in the country.

Unlike her "cell of shooters" article, this one didn't make the room spin.

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