The Los Angeles Police Department has cleared a decades-old backlog of untested DNA evidence collected in rapes and other sexual assaults and made hundreds of arrests because of the testing, the department reported Tuesday.
The accomplishment was tempered somewhat, however, by continued staffing shortages in the department’s laboratory that remains too small to keep pace with new cases.
Victim advocate groups and elected officials in late 2008 put intense pressure on the LAPD to address the thousands of pieces of DNA evidence that had sat untouched in storage freezers for years. The department counted 6,132 untested rape kits, which contained samples of semen, blood, hair or other genetic material collected from victims’ bodies and crime scenes. Analysis of the material can help identify perpetrators by matching DNA to the genetic profiles of felons stored in law enforcement databases.
LAPD officials have spent the last two years scraping together federal grants, public funds and private donations to outsource the testing to private labs. They have also lobbied elected officials for special permission to add more analysts to the LAPD’s lab despite a citywide hiring freeze.
All of the untouched kits have now been analyzed, Capt. Kevin McClure told the Los Angeles Police Commission. The effort has paid dividends. Last year, the department identified and arrested about 300 people using DNA evidence collected at crime scenes, mostly sexual assault or rape cases, McClure said.
McClure acknowledged the department still has work to do on the backlog issue. Nearly 500 of the rape kits from the backlog have been tested by outside labs but await a final review by LAPD staff, which is required by federal guidelines.
Until that review is completed, the DNA profile extracted from the evidence cannot be uploaded to the law enforcement databases to search for a perpetrator’s identity. McClure estimated it would take about two months to complete the reviews.
The department has also struggled to keep up with the 125 rape kits from new cases that, on average, are submitted each month, McClure said. Nearly 400 kits from recent cases are awaiting final review by the LAPD and about 275 others are yet to be tested, according to department figures. By this summer, the LAPD’s own lab will have added enough staff to conduct testing in all sexual assault cases, said laboratory director Greg Matheson.