Huge Backlog of Rape-Kit Analyses Hinders Justice

The draft of an audit report from the Los Angeles city controller’s office has revealed disturbing statistics about the handling of sexual assault investigations by the city’s police department.

As of September 4, 2008, the city had a backlog of 7,038 “rape kits” waiting in freezers for analysis, according to the audit. Rape kits contain the physical evidence collected after sexual assaults, often including DNA from the alleged perpetrators. At least 217 of those untested kits have now passed the statute of limitations for prosecution of the crimes, and are therefore useless.

The backlog on rape kits is not unique to Los Angeles, and 2004 federal legislation advocated by the Feminist Majority and other women’s rights groups, renewed this year, addressed the problem by authorizing funding for local police departments to catch up on DNA analyses. L.A.’s crime lab was awarded nearly $4 million, but lost nearly $500,000 of that due to lax oversight. And the backlog has worsened.

“It is beyond disturbing that the thousands of victims who have undergone the invasive ordeal of these 4-6 hour tests do not even know that their evidence is still untested,” wrote L.A. city controller Laura Chick in a cover letter to the audit. “Timely testing of rape kits is essential in identifying and convicting perpetrators who are frequently repeat offenders.” She also pointed out that New York City had a backlog of 17,000 rape kits in the 1990s, but cleared them up in just three years by finding “both the political will and the dollars.”

Los Angeles police chief William Bratton says he has set up a task force to examine the city’s Scientific Investigation Division, which oversees the DNA lab, according to the Los Angeles Times. He also said the department needs more staffing and an additional $7 million to catch up on the backlog.


Los Angeles Controller's Office Audit; LA Times 10/21/08

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