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SDPD Chief Pledges Full Testing Of Rape-Kit Backlog

 September 26, 2019 at 10:28 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Four years. The San Diego police department has opposed the national movement to test all rape kits saying the practice was misguided. But this year a voice of San Diego investigation revealed the city's crime lab moved forward to analyze dozens of rape kits, but they did it using a less rigorous procedure to quote check a box. Now the district attorney is speaking out against that policy, all of this from Andrew Keats and assistant editor and senior investigative reporter with voice of San Diego. Andrew, thanks for joining us. Thanks for having me. I'm since your report, the city has changed its policy on how they test rape kits. How was the department previously testing kits and how would they be tested moving forward? Sure. So starting in at the beginning of 2018, the city came up with the policy that they would test six swabs from every kit. That was their broad plan moving forward for new kits as well as testing the backlog of old kits. Speaker 1: 00:58 After doing so, they, in March of this year, uh, instituted a less rigorous policies for dozens of very specific kits, kits that the suspect had already had. An arrest warrant issued for them or that the district attorney had declined to prosecute and for those kits specifically few dozen kits. They tested only one swab and it's in those kits that crime lab employees told me that they were instructed that they were doing so only to check a box and registered that the kits were tested. That policy had been canceled in August a day after I first approached SDPD about the policy with the document demonstrating that I was aware it was in place. The announcement yesterday by police chief and a slight was that they were never going to do that again. All kids going forward would get the six swab testing, the full testing and that specifically the 1700 remaining untested kits that were still in the backlog in their possession that they had been trying to go through. Speaker 1: 02:03 They had created this working group with representatives from the DA's office, the crime lab and sex crimes investigators, a and a victims advocate and they had been going category by category of these kits selecting which ones would be tested. Sort of prioritizing them. They have now decided that that practice is going to be over and they were going to send all 1700 of their kids to private labs for testing from them, which is a practice that had already been adopted by the district attorney's office along with the Sheriff's and the 11 other police departments in the County except for SDPD. There were 40 kids tested using the, the one swab methods, uh, that, that previous procedure, the department told you the kids were part of a, of a cases in which the da declined to prosecutor, which an arrest warrant had already been issued. What is the argument for testing all six swabs in such? Speaker 1: 02:59 Well, their argument is that you might find DNA for them. Um, so you do not necessarily have a DNA sample from the [inaudible] just because you know, the suspect does not mean that you necessarily have a DNA sample for them. And specifically if it de da declines to prosecute a, then you've sort of that, that's become the end of the line there. And so it circles back to the, the fundamental argument that was in place at the beginning, which SDPD had always made, which was different than what other departments around the country had been saying. So SDPD his argument has been that there is no value in testing kits if you know who the suspect is a, their point being, the point of testing a kit is to find a DNA sample and therefore find out who a suspect may be. And if we already know who the suspect is, then there is no point to test the kit. Speaker 1: 03:50 That sounds logical enough on its face, I think. Uh, and there was a time when they weren't alone, but as this movement has developed across the country, uh, they've basically lost that argument. They've lost that argument at the state level where laws have been passed, mandating testing. They lost that argument at the city council level where the money was budgeted to make sure all kids could be tested. And they lost that argument at the national level where the department of justice instituted guidelines instructing all law enforcement agencies to test all kits. The reason is you don't know what else that person may have done previously or what they may do in the future. And if you can get a DNA sample from them by testing the kid, then you can put it into the federal database tracking a rape suspects that have come up in other kids. Speaker 1: 04:40 So that might connect this case to previous cases. So Ida may have declined to prosecute based on the particulars of one case, but if it connects backwards to two, three, four cases, you may have found a serial rapist. And in cases that we know these people to be raping somebody that they know it. Maybe it's a domestic violence case, maybe it's a date rape case. It is not far fledged to think that maybe this is a pattern of behavior, that these are there. There are serial rapists who are behaving in the same way over and over in different jurisdictions and then therefore getting away with it. And likewise, law enforcement wants to build this database to be as robust as possible so that in the future, maybe there is a stranger case, maybe you have a rape where you don't have a known suspect, but you do have a rape kit from that stranger case. Speaker 1: 05:29 Well now if you test it, maybe it pings back to this known suspect that was from this previous case. So that is why across the country law enforcement agencies have gotten on board with the idea that you simply test every kit without exercising any discretion, without trying to differentiate and come up with ways to prioritize them. And SDPD has dragged its feet on that end of things. And I think this one, swab testing was a Relic of that old belief that they have stated on the record numerous times. Both crime lab director, uh, Jennifer Shen and former police chief Shelley Zimmerman saying this is a waste of time. I, I think the connection between those statements and the statements from crime lab employees I spoke with who told me that they were instructed to do this, to check a box. That's the connective tissue between those two things. Speaker 1: 06:20 Now, what is district attorney summer Stephan sang about this less rigorous protocol? Yeah, so I talked to the district attorney summer Stephan, or I should say that a voice of San Diego did. She was a guest on our podcast. And during that she said two things. One was that her office was never made aware of this policy change, and that is contradictory of what was told to me by an SDPD spokesperson who said that the one swab testing had been run by her office. She says simply that is untrue. Not only did she not approve of it, she didn't even know about it. Uh, so that's one. She also says that it's wrong and it never should have happened. And moreover, she, she kind of even more broadly than that, rebuked the entire SDPD PD approach to testing kits. So when SDPD didn't test one of these kits, they put it in one of 18 different buckets describing why it wasn't tested, why it was in this untested backlog. Speaker 1: 07:21 One of those buckets was district attorney declined to prosecute. And so this sort of working group that they had put together with different representatives from different law enforcement agencies, what they were doing was going through each of those buckets and saying, okay, now let's look at this bucket. Which kits should we test? Now let's look at this bucket. Which kits should we test? Summer Stephan told me that entire idea is wrong on its face and that she disagreed with it from the beginning and that she was conflicted, but ultimately decided to put one of her staff members in the working group because they figured it was better to be at the table advocating for all kids to be tested than to be removed from the process entirely just because they disagreed with it. But she said at the time that she had hoped that SDPD would decide to abandon that working group process that they had embarked upon and instead join up with the Sheriff's department and the other 11 police departments in the County to send every kit indiscriminantly to a private lab to be tested on Tuesday. Speaker 1: 08:21 That story published with a summer Stephen's comments on Wednesday, chief nights sled and announced that he'd be doing just that. But there was someone from her office in that working group, there was somebody in the working group, and this is so this is what she said. She went into some detail with this on this with us. She said there was somebody in the working group, but the working groups practice was going through the kits category by category, deciding which ones to test. She says they were not making technical scientific decisions about how to test the kits and that she had simply presumed. Of course, once we decide to test a kit, we'll give it a full and rigorous testing that we give every kid. And she said that that working group would not have been asked those sorts of very technical questions in the first place and more of our says they were not asked. So again, one of those two statements is the truth, but they're completely contradictory. I have been speaking with Andrew Kate's assistant editor and senior investigative reporter with voice of San Diego. Andrew, thank you so much. Thank you.

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"We also hold ourselves to the highest of standards. In order to meet these expectations, we will be working with a private laboratory to ensure all 1,700 historical kits are tested."
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