"The department's crime lab now has a decade-long backlog of more than 650 homicide investigations with unexamined evidence, yet it processes 95 percent of drug cases in just 24 hours."
Oakland Police Have Prioritized Drug Crimes Over Homicides | News | Oakland, Berkeley, Bay Area & California | East Bay Express
Oakland is known as one of the most violent cities in the nation, in large part because of its high murder rate. And yet, over the past decade, the Oakland Police Department has not prioritized homicide investigations, and instead has focused on patrolling city streets. In 2012, OPD solved just 28 percent of the homicides in the city, and the department has come under intense criticism for its investigative shortcomings. Last year, the Alameda County Grand Jury noted that OPD's crime lab had untested evidence in at least 330 homicide cases dating back several years. Moreover, a recent department report indicates that the grand jury underestimated OPD's massive backlog — and that the problem has worsened.
OPD crime lab director Mary Gibbons informed the city council's Public Safety Committee last month that the department had 659 homicide cases in which it still had evidence that needed testing. Furthermore, homicide investigations are in such disarray that the lab has no idea which of the cases with unexamined evidence have been closed or adjudicated. Gibbons also presented a report that made it clear OPD's crime lab has been running at below capacity for the past seven years. "Some of these cases are very, very old. Whether they've been adjudicated or not, no one's bothered to tell us," she said.
The sheer size of Oakland's backlog of ballistics and latent print evidence from homicide cases is extremely troubling, said Eugene O'Donnell, who teaches criminology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at City University of New York and is a former lieutenant in the New York Police Department. "There is so much public attention on police visibility and crime stats. And oddly, something like people getting away with murder gets pushed aside," O'Donnell said. "Whether having more uniformed police on the streets decreases crime is still open to debate — this [analyzing evidence in homicide cases] is not open to debate, that not catching people who need to be caught is denying families justice and endangering public safety."
Recent disclosures about OPD's crime lab also reveal that while the department has deemphasized homicide investigations, it has made drug cases — including minor drug arrests — its top priority. OPD's crime lab, in fact, has no backlog for narcotics evidence and processes 95 percent of all suspected drug cases within 24 hours, while allowing homicide case evidence to languish for years without being examined.