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Nassau police crime lab placed on probation

The Nassau County Police Department crime lab has been placed on probation by its national accrediting organization after more than a dozen problems were discovered during a recent review - making it the only crime lab on probation in the country.

The five-day inspection and review by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board of the laboratory at police headquarters in Mineola found 15 failures to comply with nationally recognized standards for forensic labs, executive director Ralph Keaton said Monday.

Among the problems cited were a failure to comply with procedures on maintaining equipment and instruments; failure to properly document procedures for record storage; and failure to properly provide the board with a report of the department's internal yearly review.

"There was no single issue of noncompliance that we felt was egregious enough to call into question the lab's accreditation," Keaton said. "It was more the accumulation of findings that jump out at you than any single finding."

Keaton called the number of issues "significant" and said as few as five or six noncompliance problems would be "cause for concern."

Forensic crime laboratories store and analyze physical evidence in criminal court cases.

The Nassau lab is currently the only one in the country under probation or accreditation revocation of nearly 400 accredited labs. The lab has been accredited since 1998 and was suspended once before in 2007.

Generally, two or three labs nationally are put on probation in the course of a year, he said.

"This doesn't mean the lab is putting out bad work," Keaton said. "What it means is the lab has allowed itself to overlook requirements."

The mid-cycle review in which the problems were discovered occurs every 21/2 years and was completed Nov. 11, Keaton said. The current accreditation goes from February 2008 to February 2013. The department has 30 days to submit a plan for rectifying the problems. If it fails to fix the issues in a reasonable time, the board could suspend or revoke the lab's accreditation.

Department spokesman Det. Lt. Kevin Smith said it was notified of the decision Friday and that the report was under review by Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey and others.

"None of this poses a threat that the lab is being closed down," Smith said. "The issues will be addressed. We believe most of these issues revolve around staffing levels."

Smith said no one from the lab was available. The department denied a Newsday request for a copy of the report. "That would be premature. We haven't had time to digest it," Smith said.

Defense lawyer Brian Griffin, former president of the Criminal Courts Bar Association of Nassau County, called proper lab procedures "fundamental" to both sides of criminal cases.

"You very well may see former convictions called into question, and pending cases scrutinized further," he said.

The ASCLD/LAB, working in New York under the oversight of the state Commission of Forensic Science, accredits 387 local, state, and federal crime labs. All police crime labs in New York State must also be accredited by the state commission.The Commission of Forensic Science, which oversees the accreditation board, has a regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday at which the Nassau lab will be discussed, said Janine Kava, spokeswoman for the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, which includes the commission.

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