sfpd_cityhall.jpgThe San Francisco Police Department’s backlog of hundreds of DNA crime samples still awaiting testing is “a crisis,” a police commissioner said today.

Assistant Chief Jeff Godown told the police commission this evening that 374 samples from crimes committed between 2005 and 2010 still need to be tested. The backlog includes 23 homicide cases, 86 sexual assaults, 187 burglaries and 13 robberies, Godown said.

Godown said the crime lab’s DNA unit–which has five analysts and two supervisors–is prioritizing testing as best it can, and is also sending some samples to an outside lab in the Midwest for testing, but he said the process is costly and time-consuming.

“We are looking for a vendor that can handle that backlog,” that is local and less expensive, Godown told the commissioners.

“I think it is a crisis,” Commissioner Jim Hammer commented, noting specifically that with the sexual assaults, some of them may be cases of “stranger rape” where the suspect could still be at large in the community.

“The thought that there’s a sample of a stranger rapist sitting in our lab” and the department lacks the money to test it, Hammer said, “is a horrifying thought.”

Commissioner David Onek agreed and said he would support more funding to the Police Department to get rid of the DNA backlog.

Separately, Godown said the Police Department has a plan in place to eliminate its backlog in firearms testing within the next 90 days using its in-house testers, he said.

And the Police Department’s criminal investigation into the crime lab’s drug unit is nearly complete, Godown said.

The investigation relates to allegations former drug lab criminalist Deborah Madden stole cocaine from evidence, potentially calling into question many other samples tested at the lab. Since the drug lab was ordered closed in March, San Francisco prosecutors have dismissed or temporarily discharged hundreds of cases. Drug evidence is being sent to outside labs for testing.

The state attorney general’s office is assisting with the investigation and is awaiting the results of additional testing at its lab before a decision is made on whether charges will be filed, Godown said.

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