The San Francisco Police Department announced this week that it has cleared a backlog of sexual assault kits dating back more than 10 years.
More than 750 cases of sexual assaults reported between 2003 and 2013 that were sitting in the police department’s evidence storage rooms have now been submitted to a crime lab for analysis, officials said.
The National Institute of Justice considers a DNA kit backlogged if it has not been tested 30 days after being submitted to a crime lab.
In 2010, San Francisco passed an ordinance requiring the San Francisco Police Department to collect all sexual assault kits, known informally as rape kits, within 72 hours and then test the evidence within 14 days of receipt.
The ordinance also mandated that sufficient funds be issued to the police department by the city to ensure timely rape kit testing.
In 2013, the San Francisco Police Department conducted a 10-year review of sexual assault kits collected at San Francisco General Hospital as possible evidence from 2003 to 2013 and discovered a backlog of 753 cases in which the kits had never been submitted to a crime lab for analysis.
San Francisco police Sgt. Monica MacDonald said today that the main reason for the massive backlog was understaffing in the department’s crime lab DNA section.
She said the department’s DNA section was composed of only four employees in 2011 and today is staffed with 15 employees.
End the Backlog, a program run by the national non-profit organization Joyful Heart Foundation that focuses on ending the backlog of rape kits, estimates that there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits across the United States.
Despite this week’s announcement, End The Backlog officials estimate that the San Francisco Police Department still has not tested several thousand older rape kits because the statute of limitations has passed in those cases.
MacDonald said that the department was only instructed to go back and process DNA evidence submitted in rape kits after 2003.
The police department reviewed the sexual assault evidence in the 753 kits received during the 10-year period to determine if DNA technology available today, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database, could help identify sexual predators.
To eliminate the backlog and keep pace with new analysis demands, the police department set up contracts for DNA services with two private labs. Those labs are held to police department’s standards so that results from testing DNA evidence will be eligible for entry into the CODIS database.
As of Dec. 3, all 753 identified cases needing to be tested have been sent to a lab for analysis.
The passage of California State Assembly Bill 1517, authored by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley amending the Sexual Assault Victims’ DNA Bill of Rights, has helped address the backlog of rape kits that are sitting untested on police evidence shelves throughout the state.
Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Teresa Drenick said following the passage of the law in September, that the act of gathering forensic evidence from a victim through an invasive physical examination and then allowing that evidence to go untested, is “unconscionable” but happens far too often.
The bill stipulates that sexual assault forensic evidence must be sent to a crime lab within five days after it is booked into evidence by a law enforcement agency.
The crime lab then has to process the evidence and upload DNA profiles to CODIS within 30 days.
San Francisco law is tighter still, allowing for only 72 hours to send the evidence to a crime lab and then only 14 days to process the evidence and upload DNA into the national database.
The San Francisco Police Department has further strengthened its protocol, by requiring additional DNA swabs to be collected in all sexual assault cases and then sent immediately to a lab for analysis, in cases of both known and unknown suspects.
Drenick said the processing of rape kits in cases where a suspect has been identified is important because often a suspect in one case can be linked to other cases through DNA evidence.
Drenick said many sex offenders tend to be repeat criminals.
According to End the Backlog, the testing of DNA in cases of known suspects can connect the suspect to other crime scenes and even exonerate innocent suspects.
Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News