May 17, 2023 -- Houston City Council approved an additional $1.95 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to increase the total investment of $4.95 million for fiscal years 2023-2024 for the Houston Forensic Science Center (HFSC) during this morning’s City Council meeting. The overall funding is dedicated for use in FY '23 and FY '24 and includes last year's previously approved $3 million, which will provide lab enhancements and public safety programs, including:
“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.”
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 (see below figure - Heat Map).
Additionally, HFSC experienced a historical employee turnover rate of 15 percent or 31 employees in 2022 compared to its pre-pandemic rate of 6 percent. 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.”
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 further information on the Houston Forensic Science Center, visit www.hfsctx.gov.
About the Houston Forensic Science Center
HFSC is an independent local government corporation that provides forensic services to the City of Houston’s law enforcement agency, the Houston Police Department. HFSC’s mission is to receive, analyze and preserve physical and digital evidence while adhering to the highest standards of quality, objectivity and ethics.