In the News: LA Officials Honored as Local Backlog Reduced

Late last week, there was considerable coverage in the L.A. press about the current state of the backlog of untested rape kits in Los Angeles County. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck was honored Friday by the California Forensic Science Institute for his efforts on the issue.

According to an Los Angeles Times, local law enforcement has announced that “it has made considerable progress analyzing DNA evidence from thousands of rapes and sexual assaults that had been left untested.” The article continues:

In late 2008, Beck’s predecessor, William Bratton, under pressure from victim advocate groups, tasked Beck with getting a handle on the thousands of pieces of evidence that had languished untouched in police storage freezers for years.

Ultimately, the department counted 6,132 untested rape kits, which contain samples of semen, blood, hair or other DNA material collected from victims’ bodies and crime scenes. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced it, too, had thousands of untested kits.

Both agencies committed themselves to clearing the backlogs and to test all viable rape kits going forward. The LAPD cobbled together funds from federal grants, public coffers and private donors to launch an aggressive push to outsource the evidence kits to private labs for testing.

At the same time, it pressed elected officials for special permission to hire more analysts for its own understaffed laboratory despite a citywide hiring freeze.

During the ceremony for Chief Beck, Los Angeles Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, cited a dramatic decrease in the number of untested kits, stating that only 35 that contained enough viable DNA were still waiting to be sent for testing at private labs. The Times article goes on to explain that while much progress has been made, the Mayor’s figure doesn’t paint a complete picture of the state of the backlog:

Once a DNA sample has been analyzed by a private lab, federal guidelines require it to be returned to the local law enforcement agency that sent it out for testing.

It is the responsibility of the agency to review the work and upload the extracted DNA profile to federal databases for comparison to millions of profiles collected from people convicted of or arrested for felonies.

The LAPD’s laboratory has struggled to keep pace with this process. According to department figures, 938 DNA profiles–20% of the total number sent to an outside lab for testing–had been returned to the LAPD but were waiting to be uploaded to the databases.

The LAPD also has been unable to keep up with testing needed in new rape cases. Since December 2008, when the department began testing on its backlogged cases, 2,515 new rape kits have been submitted.

Of those, 972 remain untested and an additional 325 sit ready for upload to federal databases. At some point in coming months, when newly hired analysts complete their training, the LAPD lab will be able to handle the influx of new cases, Beck has said.

“We will never have a backlog again,” he said in his comments Friday.

To read more about efforts in Los Angeles, read our interview with Chief Beck from earlier this year and view Friday’s news report from ABC 7 here.

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