I’ve recently written about LA’s backlog of untested rape kits and how over 200 rape cases recently passed the statute of limitations — thanks to negligence which prevented it from being extended — without the kits being tested. The NY Times also recently reported that the problem is widespread across the U.S.
All of that negative publicity, and many rape victims publicly expressing outrage, has apparently convinced the city to do something about the problem.
Top city officials Tuesday unveiled a plan to help the Los Angeles Police Department’s crime lab reduce its massive backlog of unexamined DNA evidence from violent crimes, but they acknowledged that the funding for the proposal was less than certain.
Under the terms of the plan, which the City Council is expected to vote on today, the LAPD would allocate $700,000 to hire 16 more DNA analysts and support staff — a boost of about 33% over current staffing. The city would also increase by $250,000 the funds earmarked to pay private laboratories that the LAPD hires to help with the daunting workload.
“Our fundamental duty as elected officials is to ensure the safety and well-being of each of our residents,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said at a late afternoon news conference attended by Police Chief William J. Bratton and City Council members. “When crimes are committed, particularly the heinous crimes of rape — we have a solemn obligation to seek justice.”
But we also must remember that this is no quick or complete fix.
Despite the rhetoric, however, the proposal is not a panacea and does not guarantee that the LAPD will have the funds it needs to process the entire backlog of roughly 7,000 cases, authorities acknowledged. Even if approved, the plan would still fall about $900,000 short of what is needed to keep pace with new crimes and meet the LAPD’s goal of clearing about 2,500 of the older cases this year. Also, at least $4.2 million in additional funds would be needed in coming years to fill 20 more analyst positions and continue the contracts with outside labs. LAPD and city officials expressed hope that the shortfall could be made up from private donations and increased federal funding.
The city has, however, begun prioritizing kits where the rapist is still unidentified and expects to have those kits tested within the next two months. That much is great news. In short, the proper response here is to applaud the rhetoric but to also make sure that they’re politically held to it — and to pressure everyone into securing the proper funds. It also seems to me that audits in many other cities may be in order, so that we can gain the kind of political leverage seen in LA and create wider-spread demand for similar action.