The Show on KJZZ

Listen live weekdays at 9 a.m.

Tempe crime scene techs said they were 'denied' training. Now police are reviewing 400 cases

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Tuesday, November 14, 2023 - 12:09pm
Updated: Tuesday, November 14, 2023 - 5:40pm

Audio icon Download mp3 (7.59 MB)

Smartphone with flash recording video beyond a police line
Getty Images

The Tempe Police Department is responding to a new internal investigation that revealed some serious problems with its crime scene technicians. The report showed crime scene techs relied on expired chemicals and broken equipment for years and “lacked sufficient competency.”

That report came out two years ago, and Sam Kmack says little was done when they alerted superiors.

Kmack is covering the story for the Arizona Republic and joined The Show to talk more about it.

Interview highlights

LAUREN GILGER: So, tell us more to begin with about what was found in this internal investigation. What were some of the bigger problems?

SAM KMACK: So, I mean, it's a long report, 45 pages, and it lists off issues that have gone back to at least 2016. As you mentioned, the expired chemicals was a problem. So the forensic unit, for Tempe PD they collect like, you know, DNA blood evidence from crime scenes, things like that. And there was one particular instance that was talked about in the report, where one of the members used an expired kit to collect blood that was, you know, presumably used later during the case. There was an instance where there was a mop handle that was  ... involved in a murder and it was left in a storage unit that's supposed to only hold things for two weeks, for multiple years without being processed. And I think probably the overall driver of those problems that the report hits on is that the technicians, the members of the team, when they asked for training, when they asked for guidance, they said when they talked to investigators that they were just denied all of that, and lacked, you know, sufficient quality equipment that they could use.

GILGER: That's, that's crazy. So the report, as I said, was released in 2021, December of 2021. Tell us what happened when it came out.

KMACK: Well, it was quiet. ... I don't believe that it was publicly released. And so it, it was just kind of, I suppose, people in the public did not know about it. And it went on for another year and seven months. It was with those same technicians ... out on the street processing evidence for crimes like murders and major crimes. And so it was, it was more or less not fully addressed until the team was pulled off of major crimes in July. So it took, like I said, a year and seven months for for operations to be halted there.

GILGER: I want to talk more about that and what the Tempe Police Department is saying now, but tell us first how many cases were affected here?

KMACK: So Tempe PD has reviewed, they went back three years, three years worth of cases. And there were about 400; they said that they have not found anything yet that has compromised the case, but about 20% of the 400 cases that they have reviewed, which is about 80, were pulled aside for additional review. So there's still, I suppose they have to dig deeper into those.

GILGER: Could this have affected the outcome of those cases? Like, are there going to be challenges as a result of this?

KMACK: Well, you can't really say right now, but there are, I mean, there's the obvious issue with, you know, if there was a crucial evidence that was collected improperly or handled improperly, whether a case is currently in trial or, you know, the trial is already wrapped up for a case, there could be still issues with, with that and questions about the quality of that evidence. But there's another facet to it. There's something called the Brady Law, which basically requires prosecutors and police departments to disclose to the defendants any pieces of information that could benefit them or help them in their defense. So if that was not disclosed, we have experts that have said that that could potentially be an issue.

GILGER: Tell us then in the last couple of minutes here, Sam, how the Tempe Police Department is changing things, is responding now.

KMACK: Well, so they have they have got a new supervisor for the unit. And they sent the, as I said, they pulled the the unit off the street in July and are sending them to Mesa's Crime Scene Academy to receive extra training. And so under the new leadership and including Chief Ken McCoy and the new supervisor, they are, you know, one, getting them trained, replacing the equipment, making sure all that stuff is squared away. And trying to set up what are called standard operating procedures, basically rules about how the unit operates,  that the unit just simply didn't have before.

GILGER: So they're saying essentially this happened, not under my watch, there's a new chief, they're changing things. Now, you said they're contracting with Mesa for their lab techs at this point. How much is that costing?

KMACK: So the additional services that Mesa is providing in Tempe because there had been an agreement before for something related but not directly collecting and processing crime scenes. So the extra cost is about $160,000 for the year.

GILGER: All right, we'll have to leave it there. That is Sam Kmack covering this story about the Tempe Police Department for the Arizona Republic.

More stories from KJZZ

Science The ShowLaw Enforcement