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Friday, November 14, 2008

L.A. County sheriff's officials acknowledge that genetic evidence in 5,635 rape cases may be untested

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, under pressure from county supervisors and watchdog groups to account for its handling of DNA evidence from sexual assault cases, acknowledged Wednesday it did not know whether genetic evidence from more than 5,600 rape cases had been examined.

In response to an inquiry by the Board of Supervisors last month, Sheriff's Department officials tallied 5,635 sexual assault evidence kits -- semen and other DNA samples collected by authorities from victims -- sitting in freezer storage facilities, Cmdr. Earl Shields said. The department must now manually compare that inventory with records from its crime laboratory to determine which kits remain unexamined, Shields told the board Wednesday.

"The bad news is we have 5,635 kits in a warehouse," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. "The good news is we now know what has to be done."

The true size of the county's DNA backlog is probably significantly larger, said Sarah Tofte, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who has been pressing local law enforcement agencies around the country to address backlogs. The total announced Wednesday does not take into account the unknown number of sex crime kits that are in the hands of the more than 40 small police agencies in the Los Angeles area that rely on the sheriff's crime lab for analysis, she said.

Under a new policy ordered by Sheriff Lee Baca, all sexual assault kits gathered in the future will be tested -- a departure from a long-running practice in which the sheriff's crime lab analyzed evidence only after detectives handling a case requested it. Shields also said the department would analyze evidence from all kits currently in storage that are found to be untested, although he warned that such an effort would require additional funds to hire more analysts as well as outsourcing testing to private labs.
"The bad news is we have 5,635 kits in a warehouse," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. "The good news is we now know what has to be done."

The true size of the county's DNA backlog is probably significantly larger, said Sarah Tofte, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who has been pressing local law enforcement agencies around the country to address backlogs. The total announced Wednesday does not take into account the unknown number of sex crime kits that are in the hands of the more than 40 small police agencies in the Los Angeles area that rely on the sheriff's crime lab for analysis, she said.

Under a new policy ordered by Sheriff Lee Baca, all sexual assault kits gathered in the future will be tested -- a departure from a long-running practice in which the sheriff's crime lab analyzed evidence only after detectives handling a case requested it. Shields also said the department would analyze evidence from all kits currently in storage that are found to be untested, although he warned that such an effort would require additional funds to hire more analysts as well as outsourcing testing to private labs. [Mark Godsey]

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Comments

This news while disturbing, should come as no surprise. For years the resources (money) needed to process these and other scientific evidence has been lacking. The Board of Supervisors must be willing to find funding for additional crime lab technicians or, allow the Sheriff's Office to have monies to be used for private labs to examine scientific evidence.

Sheriff Lee Baca, is to be commended for ordering the new policy that mandates all Rape Kits undergo testing. But when the bills for doing this come in, the county must pay for them.

In an unrelated measure, the Los Angeles City Council, gave the police department approval to use more outside private labs in an effort to reduce their backlog of cases requiring scientific testing. Numerous other cities that are facing increasing requirements for scientific testing are also now beginning to outsource this testing in an effort not to be overwhelmed by backlogs.

Posted by: Andre Leonard | Jan 6, 2009 5:30:04 AM

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