I’ve written before about the huge backlog of untested rape kits currently in the possession of the LAPD, and more horrifying news about the problem has just come out. An audit has shown that the LAPD allowed the prosecution deadline to expire on more than 200 sexual assault cases without testing the rape kits.
Los Angeles police officials have allowed the deadline for prosecuting as many as 200 potential sexual assault cases to pass without testing DNA evidence that might have resulted in a suspect’s identification, according to a city audit released today.
The 200 cases were part of an overall backlog of 7,000 sexual assault test kits that have not been examined by the LAPD. Each kit contains a potential genetic road map to the perpetrator of a crime.
“Sometimes I find problems as city controller that simply defy explanation,” said City Controller Laura Chick at a news conference at which she unveiled her findings. “It is beyond disturbing that the thousands of victims who have undergone the invasive ordeal of [submitting to] these tests do not even know that their evidence is still untested.”
Worse yet, the excuses keep getting more and more transparent. Despite claims that a lack of funding is the issue here, it’s becoming apparent that this is more a case of lacking political will and/or severe incompetence.
The LAPD has been repeatedly criticized for its huge backlog of untested DNA evidence, but officials have said that they lacked the money to move faster on the cases.
Chick’s report, however, found that the logjam existed even though the department had received nearly $4 million in grants in recent years to address the problem.
According to the city audit, there are 217 rape kits that have sat on the shelves in LAPD property rooms that are beyond the 10-year statute in which to prosecute the crimes.
“They are totally useless and that number is growing every day,” Chick said.
Auditors also found that the LAPD was failing to comply with a state law that requires sexual assault victims to be notified by the police if their rape kits are not tested within a two- year period. If authorities had made those notifications the statute of limitations would have been extended. (emphasis mine)
How is this considered okay? Why is it being allowed to continue?
As the LA Times article notes, if you don’t live in LA, don’t get comfy. Their situation is far from unique; the U.S. Justice Department says that there are 169,000 untested rape kits nationwide. And this kind of negligence has horrendously grave consequences.
In Los Angeles County, the backlog has occasionally caused trial dates to be canceled, frustrated detectives, and delayed justice for victims and their families. In one case, an evidence kit that went untested for months left a suspected rapist free to allegedly assault another victim.
Disgusting, terrifying, and utterly indefensible.
The city’s inability or unwillingness to fund this necessary police work is a result of politics as well as resource limits. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, like his predecessors, has put a premium on increasing the number of officers on the street; when the department gets money, that’s often where it goes. Police Chief William J. Bratton also has focused on numbers.
This page too has urged the city to enlarge the department. Los Angeles remains the nation’s most underpoliced big city, and recent downward crime trends have come in spite of, and not because of, the unacceptably low officer-to-resident ratio. But there’s little point in having more officers, or arrests, if the department neglects the bedrock investigative and lab work necessary to solve crimes.
As I said last time, though many treat rape survivors who choose to not report and go through the trauma of rape kit collection as cowardly and misguided, their reasons are in fact very rational. Why should a woman report in a world that mocks and blames rape victims, when there’s not only a low chance she’ll see a conviction but apparently a good shot her kit won’t even be tested?
The reasons for not reporting make a lot of sense, but they shouldn’t. This nonsense needs to stop now.