No Changes Needed At Houston's Messed-Up Fingerprint Lab, City Council Decides

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The Houston City Council approved today -- despite concerns from several council members -- a contract to keep paying a consulting firm to basically run the police department's fingerprint lab.

Mistakes in the lab, which is in bad shape to say the least, have been the target of audits and even criminal investigations. The city hired Ron Smith and Associates, Inc., last year to address problems at the lab, and today's vote extends that contract further and pays the firm $2.3 million.

Councilman C.O. Bradford, who served as the city's Chief of Police from 1996 to 2003, thinks that's a bad idea.

One of Bradford's biggest concerns is that Ron Smith and Associates, the firm that also performed the audit, hired a woman who worked at the police department's fingerprint lab when all the errors happened.

"I think there's enough on the table to warrant much closer scrutiny," Bradford said.

Trouble was, Mayor Annise Parker, who supported continuing the contract, didn't think Bradford should have a say in the issue because of his time served as police chief.

"Respectfully, council member," Parker said to Bradford. "Have you considered recusing yourself from this?"

Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck expanded on that, referencing Councilwoman Jolanda Jones' statement that the fingerprint lab had been a mess as far back as 1998.

She said, "I'm concerned that we have a colleague at this table who was actually in charge of this process."

Clutterbuck added that voting against the contract would simply be a "delay in finding the truth" that could implicate Bradford as being part of past problems at HPD.

But Bradford said after the meeting that he would not recuse himself, and he thought that his experience in the police department is the reason he should be involved.

Jones was another council member who thought the contract shouldn't go to Ron Smith and Associates, and she was upset that the contract was referred to as a "stop gap" until a more permanent solution could be put in place.

"I'm in court almost every day, and we still have problems with the lab. [HPD] doesn't ever admit to doing anything [wrong] until they're caught," Jones said. "We have been doing this...for too many years. We need to get it right."

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