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Rape kits: LAPD Chief Charlie Beck says progress made analyzing evidence

December 10, 2010 |  2:45 pm

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/.a/6a00d8341c630a53ef0120a6699c04970b-800wi

The Los Angeles Police Department this week announced it has made considerable progress analyzing DNA evidence from thousands of rapes and sexual assaults that had been left untested.

Despite the gains, police officials acknowledged the LAPD has more work to do to resolve the DNA backlog. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck was honored Friday by the California Forensic Science Institute for his efforts on the issue.

In late 2008, Beck’s predecessor, William Bratton, under pressure from victim advocate groups, tasked Beck with getting a handle on the thousands of pieces of evidence that had languished untouched in police storage freezers for years.

Ultimately, the department counted 6,132 untested rape kits, which contain samples of semen, blood, hair or other DNA material collected from victims’ bodies and crime scenes. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced it, too, had thousands of untested kits.

Both agencies committed themselves to clearing the backlogs and to test all viable rape kits going forward. The LAPD cobbled together funds from federal grants, public coffers and private donors to launch an aggressive push to outsource the evidence kits to private labs for testing.

At the same time, it pressed elected officials for special permission to hire more analysts for its own understaffed laboratory despite a citywide hiring freeze.

In comments he made to introduce Beck at the institute’s ceremony, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the LAPD has now sent out for testing all but 35 of the rape kits that contained enough viable DNA material for testing.

That number, however, does not tell the whole story.

Once a DNA sample has been analyzed by a private lab, federal guidelines require it to be returned to the local law enforcement agency that sent it out for testing.

It is the responsibility of the agency to review the work and upload the extracted DNA profile to federal databases for comparison to millions of profiles collected from people convicted of or arrested for felonies.

The LAPD’s laboratory has struggled to keep pace with this process. According to department figures, 938 DNA profiles--20% of the total number sent to an outside lab for testing--had been returned to the LAPD but were waiting to be uploaded to the databases.

The LAPD also has been unable to keep up with testing needed in new rape cases. Since December 2008, when the department began testing on its backlogged cases, 2,515 new rape kits have been submitted.

Of those, 972 remain untested and an additional 325 sit ready for upload to federal databases. At some point in coming months, when newly hired analysts complete their training, the LAPD lab will be able to handle the influx of new cases, Beck has said.

“We will never have a backlog again,” he said in his comments Friday.

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-- Joel Rubin at Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center at Cal State L.A.

Photo: Credit: Los Angeles Times

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