Law Enforcement Response
As many of you have heard, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) announced this week that they have ended their “historic” rape kit backlog of 6,132 kits, resulting in at least 300 new arrests. This is a significant milestone in the work to reform rape kit testing in Los Angeles city.
For the past three years, advocates in Los Angeles and nationally have worked together to end the LAPD’s rape kit backlog, and the news this week that the historic backlog has been tested is an accomplishment that sets up Los Angeles to be considered a model for the rest of the country.
Joyful Heart is pleased to have played a part in this reform along with a number of local and national organizations including Peace Over Violence, the UCLA-Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center and Human Rights Watch. Last year, we placed calls and wrote letters to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and then-Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton to encourage them to find the resources necessary to outsource all of the testing of the historic backlog, increase crime lab staff, and better track rape kit testing results. When Law & Order: SVU featured the rape kit backlog in the third episode of its twelfth More >
We came across this article on nola.com about the New Orleans Police Department’s efforts to resolve its backlog of untested rape kits. Using time and resources donated by the Louisiana State Police, Marshall University and the National Institute of Justice, the department is looking to make rape kit testing a priority, NOLA reports.
From the article:
About 60 kits per month will be sent to the State Police lab and then will be forwarded later to Marshall University for analysis.
The Police Department’s crime lab, which was decimated in Katrina, has a backlog of several years in testing the evidence kits. This sort of evidence is crucial to investigations.
Committing time and resources to testing sexual assault evidence is crucial to resolving backlogs like this one. In November, CBS reported that the Louisiana state lab was struggling to work its way through a backlog of hundreds of kits, some as old as eight years.
Hopefully the extra help and renewed energy will make a difference for New Orleans.
Read the full article here, and continue to check back here for more updates from across the country.
Late in November, I interviewed Sgt. Liz Donegan of the Austin Police Department’s Sex Crimes Unit about her groups’ response to sexual violence, their new campaign, “We Believe,” as well as Austin’s elimination of its rape kit backlog.
Sarah Tofte: How did you decide to become a police officer?
Sgt. Liz Donegan: I have always wanted to be a police officer, every since I was a little girl. I have four sisters and all of them will tell you that’s all I ever talked about when I was younger. It sounds cliche, but I really wanted to help people and I thought being a cop was an exciting way to do that. It took me a while to get around to becoming a police officer. I had served in the Army after leaving college. When my tour was up, I moved to Texas and began working at the Sheriff’s Department. I worked as a corrections officer and then was hired on with the Austin Police Department. I did not have any reservations about working within policing, as I had worked in many male dominated fields previously. I believed if I worked hard and it showed in More >
Late last week, there was considerable coverage in the L.A. press about the current state of the backlog of untested rape kits in Los Angeles County. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck was honored Friday by the California Forensic Science Institute for his efforts on the issue.
According to an Los Angeles Times, local law enforcement has announced that “it has made considerable progress analyzing DNA evidence from thousands of rapes and sexual assaults that had been left untested.” The article continues:
In late 2008, Beck’s predecessor, William Bratton, under pressure from victim advocate groups, tasked Beck with getting a handle on the thousands of pieces of evidence that had languished untouched in police storage freezers for years.
Ultimately, the department counted 6,132 untested rape kits, which contain samples of semen, blood, hair or other DNA material collected from victims’ bodies and crime scenes. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced it, too, had thousands of untested kits.
Both agencies committed themselves to clearing the backlogs and to test all viable rape kits going forward. The LAPD cobbled together funds from federal grants, public coffers and private donors to launch an aggressive push to outsource the evidence kits to private labs for testing.
At the same time, More >
One of our hopes for endthebacklog.org and the Backlog Blog is to share stories of how individuals and organizations are working to eliminate backlogs once they’ve been uncovered. The hope is that other jurisdictions can learn from their successes and challenges, and that together we can develop strategies to ensure justice and healing for survivors of sexual violence. Earlier this week, I chatted with LA Police Chief Charlie Beck about his department’s efforts to resolve their backlog of untested rape kits.
Sarah Tofte: How did you discover that Los Angeles had a backlog of untested rape kits?
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck: We always knew that we had a backlog of untested rape kits—I mean, we knew that when we collected kits from victims, that some of them were sent to the crime lab and some were not. Around three years ago, we decided to consider any kit collected from a victim and not tested as a kit that was part of the backlog. So, under the direction of then-Chief Bratton, we went into our evidence storage facilities to count the kits. We knew how many kits were waiting for testing at our crime labs, but we had no idea how many More >