The local media have been full of the situation at the San Francisco Crime Lab lately. For you out-of-state people, SFPD discovered that one of their drug analysts may have been poaching the evidence, which led them to realize that a number of other things were wrong. The best summary I've seen recently is in this post from www.officer.com - I'm not surprised that the professionals have an eye on this.
In one sense, this is off my turf; I don't live in San Francisco. But I do live in a town with major budget problems and an understaffed police department.
The situation was discussed for an hour last week on Michael Krasny's Forum, on KQED-FM. As I listened, I heard several people comment that the lab had some of the latest greatest analytical equipment, but they'd never turned it on; they hadn't even calibrated it. The panelists spoke as if this was some inexplicable, possibly even deliberate, failure by the staff. "They kept using their older, less accurate methods."
Nobody on the panel seemed to understand why this should be. I can explain it, and it's very simple. This lab had 3 people doing the work of at least a dozen, against absurdly short deadlines (48 hours; read the summary). They had the latest equipment because somebody in the city-and-county arranged funding for the latest equipment - but the staff couldn't spare the time to get trained on it! With only 3 people handling between 13 and 19 cases a day, when the norm is around 2 per day, they barely had time to go to the bathroom! I'm not surprised that their lab protocols were sloppy and their records weren't kept properly. I'm not even surprised that amounts of cocaine somehow "disappeared."
The only good thing about this mess is that Chief Gascon has taken full responsibility for it. But I hope the city budgeters, here and elsewhere, can remember that it does no good to buy the latest, fanciest equipment for a staff so overwhelmed it will never have time to learn how to use it.