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LAPD reduces DNA testing backlog

L.A. controller's audit finds that untested evidence kits from rapes and sexual assaults have been cut by two-thirds since last fall.

November 06, 2009|Maeve Reston

The Los Angeles Police Department has reduced the backlog of untested DNA evidence kits from rapes and sexual assaults by two-thirds since last fall, but City Controller Wendy Greuel cautioned Thursday that "we still have a long way to go to resolve this issue."

With Police Chief-designate Charles L. Beck at her side, Greuel outlined the results of a new audit one year after former Controller Laura Chick found that the LAPD's backlog of untested kits had grown to more than 7,000, with 217 languishing beyond the legal time limit for prosecuting suspects.

Greuel praised the department for "significant progress" and for ensuring that no kit went untested this year beyond the legal time limit.

But Tiffany Siart, director of the Los Angeles office of Human Rights Watch, said that the LAPD's goal should not just be to expedite testing, "but to provide justice to the rape victims whose cases have gone nowhere."

"Until the testing of these kits results in investigations, arrests and convictions, we cannot say that we have truly made progress," Siart said.

Through complex procedures, DNA analysts can identify a person's genetic code and check whether it matches that of known felons in state and federal databases.

Beck, who was nominated this week by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to succeed former Police Chief William J. Bratton, said eliminating the backlog by the summer of 2011 is one of his top priorities.

Working systematically, the department first tested evidence kits in open cases and those involving assaults by strangers. Most of the remaining 2,527 untested kits, Beck said, are part of cases that have been closed.

"The ones that cause the biggest public safety hazard have been tested," he said.

In her findings, Greuel urged police to more quickly create a centralized database to track untested kits, which are currently monitored by three LAPD branches: property management, robbery-homicide and the scientific divisions. Beck said that work is already underway.

Greuel also faulted the department for presenting varied figures on the number of kits that still need to be tested and called for another physical inventory to make sure the count is correct.

"If we don't have an accurate accounting of where we stand, it's impossible to say with certainty how much progress has been made," she said.

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

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