Los Angeles: Since October 2008, Los Angeles Police Department detectives have accomplished the most comprehensive review of frozen storage evidence in the history of the LAPD; findings provide much needed clarity.
It has been widely reported that there are over 7000 untested rape kits on LAPD shelves. The issue of backlogged Sexual Assault Evidence Kits was not a new one; in fact, the LAPD, other officials, and the media have issued similar reports since 2002.
In October 2008, the LAPD was already engaged in a two step plan to address the growing number of untested Sexual Assault Evidence Kits. The first step was the hiring of new criminalists, technicians and equipment to help keep pace with incoming evidence. The second step was to contract with accredited labs across the country with a goal of reducing the backlog to zero by 2013. The estimated cost for this outsourcing remains at $2.1 million per year. In October 2008, there was approximately $4.7 million dollars earmarked to begin the five year plan. The money was provided through allocations from general funds, grant funds and private donations; Councilmember Jack Weiss, through two separate allocations provided a total of $350,000.
Beyond the considerable expense of $1000 associated to test each Sexual Assault Evidence Kit, the number of kits to be outsourced is limited by the capacity of the respective contract laboratories and by the ability of the LAPD to conduct the required preparatory work on each kit prior to shipping. That outsourcing is now at full capacity; in fact, 490 Sexual Assault Evidence Kits were outsourced in January of this year alone.
All prior discussions of the backlog relied on a property management database which was designed to track little more than the existence of evidence. While queries of the property management database produced findings which were technically correct, system limitations caused the findings and related interpretations to lack the detail needed to effectively identify and manage the backlog. Between October 2008 and February 2009, a task force of 50 LAPD detectives worked a combined total of 2000 hours to bring both accuracy and significance to the interpretation of the raw numbers.
By combining investigative experience with unparalleled tenacity, the 50 detectives brought clarity to a complex problem. Detectives found 53,368 items of evidence in LAPD freezers, 11,077 are Sexual Assault Evidence Kits. A single "case" or victim can be associated with one or more Sexual Assault Evidence Kits. In fact, of the 11,077 sexual assault kits, there were far fewer (9,911) sexual assault cases. Of the 9,911 sexual assault cases in evidence, 4,718 have in fact been tested, leaving a total of 5,193 untested cases.
Sexual Assault Evidence Kits are sometimes obtained in circumstances where it is later determined that no crime has actually occurred. The result is that a significant number of sexual assault cases are later determined not to meet the legal standard for a crime and therefore are not eligible for input into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). The LAPD currently has 770 sexual assault cases which are, for one reason or another, ineligible for CODIS input.
The number of untested cases (5,193) less the number of cases that do not meet the standard for CODIS entry (770), equals a total of 4,423 untested CODIS eligible cases and can be considered our true backlog. Of the 4,423 backlogged cases, 1,184 have been "cleared by arrest" and 1,796 have been presented to prosecutorial agencies and "declined for prosecution."
All 4,423 backlogged cases and all future cases will be tested. An improved database helps to ensure that all sexual assault victims are notified as required, and that no untested cases are allowed to exceed the statute of limitations. The database now includes accurate and meaningful information upon which sound investigative and fiscally prudent practices can be based.
On February 12, 2009, a coalition of victims’ advocates, subject matter experts, scientists, and command staff will meet to review the findings of the Detective Task force. With the overall goal of testing evidence from all sexual assault cases, a strategic and prioritization plan will be developed. The coalition will review the current status of hiring and training. As promised in October 2008, a "best practices" model is being developed. The Los Angeles Police Department recognizes there is no system more in need of a "best practices" model than the one used to track and test sexual assault evidence.