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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Progress Is Minimal in Clearing DNA Cases

LOS ANGELES — Local and state law enforcement agencies have made uneven progress in reducing a nationwide backlog of cases awaiting DNA analysis over the past four years, according to reports filed by more than 100 agencies with the National Institute of Justice.

The patchy results came despite stepped-up efforts by the federal government, including nearly $500 million in grants since 2004, to help crime laboratories reduce the backlog.

Victims’ rights groups and some law enforcement officials say the untested evidence, much of it stemming from sexual assault crimes, leaves open the possibility that thousands of criminal offenders have gone unpunished or are on the loose and committing new crimes.

“That’s always a concern,” said Sharon Papa, an assistant chief in the Los Angeles Police Department, “because, unfortunately, oftentimes rape is a serial crime.”

The problem seems most severe here in Los Angeles, where the Police Department has the largest known backlog, about 7,000 cases, including many with rape kits from sexual assaults.

The backlog comprises a mix of open cases and solved cases awaiting analysis and entry of DNA into state and national databases. [Mark Godsey]

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