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LAPD clears decades-old backlog in rape and sexual assault cases but can't keep pace with new ones

February 1, 2011 |  2:51 pm

The Los Angeles Police Department announced today that it has cleared a decades-old backlog of untested DNA evidence collected in rape and sexual assault cases, but acknowledged the department’s laboratory remains too small to keep pace with the influx of new cases.

The department came under intense pressure in late 2008 from victim advocate groups and elected officials to address the thousands of pieces of DNA evidence that had sat untouched in police storage freezers for years.

The department counted 6,132 untested "rape kits," which contain 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.

Because its in-house lab is too small to handle the task, the departments says, it has spent the past two years scraping together federal grants, public funds and private donations to outsource the testing to private labs. It has also lobbied elected officials for special permission to hire more analysts despite a citywide hiring freeze.

All of the untouched kits have now been analyzed, Capt. Kevin McClure told the Los Angeles Police Commission at its meeting Tuesday.

The effort, he added, 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 said 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 are awaiting a final review by LAPD staff, which is required by federal guidelines.

Until that review is completed, the DNA profile cannot be extracted from the evidence or uploaded to the law enforcement databases in search of the perpetrator's identity. McClure estimated it will take about two months to complete the reviews.

The department has also struggled to keep up with rape kits from new cases; on average, about 125 are submitted each month, McClure said. Nearly 400 kits from recent cases are awaiting final review by the LAPD and about 275 others have yet to be tested, according to department figures.

Because of its size, the laboratory is capable of handling only about a fifth of the cases logged each month.

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-- Joel Rubin at LAPD headquarters

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