St. Paul police could send drug analysis work to state lab

St. Paul Police Department
The St. Paul crime lab is housed at the St. Paul Police Department in St. Paul, Minn. Wednesday, July 25, 2012. In a proposal currently being discussed by police and BCA officials, the city of St. Paul would fund the salaries of several employees at the state crime lab. The employees would analyze drug evidence on behalf of the St. Paul police
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

St. Paul police may decide to pay the state to conduct all drug analysis rather than resume testing at the troubled St. Paul police crime lab.

The police lab suspended drug testing six months ago amid allegations of contamination and shoddy work. Since then, police have sent suspected drug evidence to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension crime lab for testing. The lab's fingerprint division remains open.

In one proposal currently being discussed by police and BCA officials, the city of St. Paul would fund the salaries of several employees at the state crime lab. The employees would analyze drug evidence on behalf of the St. Paul police, said BCA spokesperson Jill Oliveira.

The BCA already has a similar arrangement with the Minneapolis Police Department.

St. Paul police spokesperson Howie Padilla declined to comment.

"At this time ... we are not confirming or elaborating on what shape the crime lab will take on in the future as nothing is finalized," Padilla wrote in an email to MPR News on Friday.

Padilla also declined to comment on the ongoing review of the lab by two independent consultants hired by the city. A report summarizing the consultants' findings will be released within weeks, Padilla said.

One of the most damaging allegations against the crime lab is that it failed to follow any written standard procedures for testing suspected drugs. Public defenders who challenged the lab in Dakota County District Court in July said the lack of written procedures made it impossible to verify the lab's findings. A judge's ruling on the case that exposed problems at the lab is expected by late March.

Accredited crime labs are required to follow standard procedures, but the St. Paul crime lab is not accredited.

State Sen. Ron Latz, who chairs the Senate Judiciary committee, plans to introduce legislation this week that would require accreditation of all crime labs in Minnesota.

The lab's results are "used potentially to put people behind bars for many years," the St. Louis Park DFL-er said, "so it's particularly important that the results be reliable."

Four labs in Minnesota are already accredited by one of two national forensic groups. The accredited labs include the two state crime labs, the Hennepin County Sheriff's crime lab, and the Minneapolis Police Department crime lab.

The proposed legislation would not apply to small labs that process evidence to be sent elsewhere for testing, Latz said.

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