HOUSTON – The Houston City Council has announced an approval of an additional $1.95 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the Houston Forensic Science Center.
The overall funding for fiscal years 2023-2024 will be a total investment of $4.95 million.
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The funding is dedicated for use in fiscal year 2023 and fiscal year 2024 and also includes last year’s previously approved $3 million.
The additional funding will provide lab enhancements and public safety programs including:
– Toxicology Case Outsourcing: $400,000- Overtime for Crime Scene Unit and Firearms Investigation Staff: $300,000- Firearms Specialized Training/Technology: $900,000- Training of New Analysts: $2 million – E-discovery and Justice Trax System Upgrades: $500,000- Digital Multimedia Outsourcing: $600,000- Hiring Temporary Labor to Support the Harris County Backlog Reduction Program: $250,000
“I want to thank City Council for approving an additional $1.95 million in ARPA funds for the Houston Forensic Science Center, bringing our total investment to $4.95 million,” said Mayor Turner. “The Center plays a critical role in public safety efforts in our city and this funding will immediately be used to support recruitment efforts of skilled employees and solving crimes in areas with the highest crime rates, both components of my One Safe Houston initiative.”
Officials said COVID-19 has affected the efficiencies of crime labs nationwide to solve crimes, get perpetrators off the streets, and seek closure for victims and their families. Unfortunately, this is true of the Houston Forensic Science Center, specifically with crime and employee turnover. Between 2020 and 2021, HFSC responded to more than 900 gun-related incidents, which included homicides, aggravated assaults, officer-involved shootings, death investigations, and aggravated robbery.
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Additionally, HFSC experienced a historical employee turnover rate of 15 percent or 31 employees in 2022 compared to its pre-pandemic rate of 6%. Due to the complex nature of the work, there is significant training time and cost to bring new employees to a point where they can perform casework independently. The average training time for a new employee is nearly two-years costing approximately $400,000.
“We appreciate all the support the City has provided to HFSC. COVID put an enormous strain on the entire criminal justice system which we will feel the impacts for years,” said Dr. Peter Stout, HFSC’s President & CEO. “The funding from One Safe Houston has allowed us to make significant progress on multiple court backlogs. With the vote today, we will be positioned to continue progress and begin to tackle one of the biggest backlog challenges in firearms.”
Officials said the City already provides $28.5 million annually towards the Houston Forensic Science Center operations. This additional investment of $4.95 million of ARPA funds will assist in recruiting employees and solving crimes in areas with the highest crime rates. The City of Houston is poised to work collaboratively with all criminal justice stakeholders to clear the criminal case backlog, a priority of Mayor Turner’s One Safe Houston initiative and continue to focus on combatting employee attrition and absenteeism due to the pandemic.
For more about the Houston Forensic Science Center, click here.
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