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LAPD has cut DNA testing backlog in half

A year ago, officials set aside funds to outsource some testing and hire more lab staff after the LAPD acknowledged 7,500 evidence kits in rape and sexual assault cases had been sitting in storage.

October 06, 2009|Joel Rubin

The Los Angeles Police Department has cut in half the backlog of untested DNA evidence from rapes and sexual assaults, according to police figures.

In late 2008, amid increasing pressure from victims' rights groups and elected officials, LAPD officials acknowledged that nearly 7,500 evidence kits collected from rape and sexual assault victims were languishing in storage freezers, never having been analyzed.

At the time, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LAPD Chief William J. Bratton vowed to address the issue, setting aside funds to help the department outsource the evidence to private laboratories at a faster pace and to bolster the department's own understaffed laboratory.

In a letter, Bratton and Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, who heads a task force on the backlog, updated its members, saying the number of untested evidence kits had fallen to 3,157.

At the current pace of testing, the LAPD would erase the backlog by the summer of 2011, Bratton and Beck wrote.

Unexamined evidence kits hold potentially crucial information. When a sample collected at a crime scene or from a victim's body is matched to a DNA profile, it can offer prosecutors strong evidence of a person's guilt. The sample also can be used to ensure that a suspect has not falsely confessed to a crime or to link a suspect to other cases.

The LAPD's push to clear the backlog has led to tangible payoffs: Examination of previously untested semen, blood or other genetic evidence matched the profiles of 405 men in the state's databases, the letter said. The department is also on course to hire 26 additional lab staff members by next summer.

In an interview, Beck said an inventory of the evidence allowed the LAPD to prioritize cases for testing.

Evidence from the several hundred cases in which detectives had no known suspects has now been tested, Beck says.

The effort, however, has not been without some setbacks. Plans to build a database to track each evidence kit have been stymied by technical and funding problems, and mandatory furloughs of civilian staff have hampered work at the LAPD's lab, Beck said.

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joel.rubin@latimes.com

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