The San Francisco Police Department's assistant chief tasked with overhauling the department's embattled crime lab today declared an evidentiary warehouse at the lab feral cat-free.
"I don't see any cats popping out of anywhere ... and I hope I don't see any cats popping out of anywhere," Assistant Chief Jeff Godown told reporters as he led them on a tour of the warehouse on the Hunters Point crime lab property.
The recent revelation that feral cats were wandering around the warehouse where evidence and property are stored -- apparently after staff brought them in to try to handle a rodent problem -- is the latest embarrassment involving the department's crime lab.
The lab's reputation has been tarnished in recent weeks with allegations former criminalist Deborah Madden stole cocaine evidence from samples in the lab's drug testing unit. Police Chief George Gascon ordered drug testing at lab temporarily halted on March 9.
The fallout from Madden's investigation and outside audits that noted other problems at the lab's drug unit has prompted San Francisco prosecutors to dismiss or temporarily discharge hundreds of drug cases.
Police today led reporters past dilapidated buildings at the former Naval shipyard at Hunters Point, along fenced off areas replete with warnings, "Caution: radiologically controlled area," to Building 606, where the lab and the evidence warehouse sits overlooking San Francisco Bay.
"I'm assuming they were feral cats," Godown responded to questions from reporters that he appeared slightly weary to have to answer.
A handful of cats were recently rounded up and given over to the local humane society, which "took care of the problem," he said.
Godown, evoking the "transparency" Gascon has been fond of mentioning, said he wanted reporters to see for themselves the state of the warehouse.
"It's not as bad as people think it is," Godown declared. "The cats are gone."
However, Godown said the warehouse -- the largest of four the department maintains -- is nearly full, almost "to the breaking point," he said.
Thousands of materials, boxes of evidence from old homicide cases, lights from suspected marijuana growing operations, rows of bikes, even a large tree limb, lined the floor and walls.
Some of the evidence in the room could stretch back to the 1940s, according to Godown.
"What you're seeing here is, this problem will never end," he said. "We will need more space because more crime will occur."
The property control unit, which shares the warehouse space with the department's K-9 unit, also needs a larger freezer for its DNA evidence storage, Godown said.
"I have to fix these problems, yet I have no money or additional personnel," he said.
Godown promised to take reporters on a tour of the lab itself at a later date.