The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department acknowledged Wednesday that it has more than 5,600 evidence kits from rape cases in storage but doesn't know how many are unprocessed.
The sheriff's office reported on the matter to the county Board of Supervisors, which requested the information in the wake of recent controversy over the Los Angeles Police Department's backlog of 7,000 rape kits waiting to be processed.
Sheriff's Cmdr. Earl Shields told the county board that the department must now compare its inventory with records from its crime laboratory to determine which kits are unexamined. He said the department will prioritize examining the kits that have been in freezer storage the longest. Kits that have not been examined within 10 years will expire and can't be used to prosecute suspects due to the statute of limitations.
"The bad news is that we have 5,636 rape kits in a warehouse," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. "The good news is we now know what has to be done."
The evidence kits include items such as fingernail scrapings and body fluids, which provide valuable DNA evidence that is used in court to prosecute suspects.
Sarah Toite, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, told the Los Angeles Times that the county's backlog is likely larger because the Sheriff's Department report does not include the number of evidence kits held by the 40 smaller police agencies that send the kits to the county for analysis.
Department officials have said nearly all the untested evidence kits are likely from cases in which the detectives have not felt the need to ask for DNA analysis. But under a new policy announced by Sheriff Lee Baca, the Sheriff's Department will now process all evidence kits.
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"We still believe we will find that untested rape kits are untested because they are of no probative value," said sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore. "But we want to make sure what we believe to be right is right."
Shields told supervisors that the policy will also entail hiring more analysts and using outside labs.