The Los Angeles Police Department has more than 7,000 rape kits that have yet to be analyzed, creating an ever-increasing backlog that the city has failed to address, according to an audit released today by the city controller.
Controller Laura Chick found there are 7,038 kits with DNA evidence collected from sexual assault victims that have not been analyzed. Of those cases, 176 are being pursued by detectives and 6,862 are part of the backlog.
Five years ago, the backlog was at 3,332.
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"There is not a woman alive who has not thought with fear in the pit of her stomach about the possibility of being raped and sexually assaulted," Chick said.
"Some times I find problems as city controller that simply defy explanation," she said. "There is not an acceptable explanation for the fact that we have close to 7,000 rape kits sitting on freezer shelves -- unanalyzed."
Police Chief William Bratton was expected to comment on the audit at tonight's Police Commission meeting at Southwestern Law School.
Councilman Jack Weiss, chair of the Public Safety Committee, and fellow City Council members Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti have proposed hiring 16 new employees for the crime lab in January 2009, at a cost of $700,000 for the remainder of the fiscal year.
The LAPD's Serology/DNA Unit currently has 30 criminalists and 13 lab technicians.
"We appreciate that Controller Chick is now focusing on the DNA backlog issue and has added her support to the efforts we have been making to add staff and increase outsourcing," the three council members said in a joint statement. "Her help is welcome, and it is good to have the addition of her support for hiring criminalists as well as cops."
The California Sexual Assault Victims' DNA Bill of Rights requires law enforcement agencies to inform victims if the evidence in their rape kits is not processed within two years of the crime. The audit found that 5,694 of the unopened kits are more than two years old, and none of those victims have been notified.
"It would be fair to say that the LAPD broke the law 5,694 times when they failed to tell rape victims that they are not going to open their kits and they have not tested their kits," said Sarah Tofte with Human Rights Watch.
Of the backlogged cases, 217 have exceeded the 10-year statute of limitations.
Since 2004, the city of Los Angeles has received about $4 million in federal grants to test the backlog of kits. The Department of Justice reduced the city's 2008 grant by $498,000 -- half of the award -- because the LAPD failed to spend money from previous grants.
"The city, its elected leadership and the police department have not given this issue the attention, the resources and the priority it deserves," Chick said.
"We must have presented, adopted and implemented a three-year plan that gets rid of the DNA backlog we have today once and for all and prevents any new backlog from forming -- and that plan needs to be funded."