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SDPD's Backlog of Rape Kits Finally Getting Tested

 May 25, 2020 at 10:09 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 A rape kit, which contains forensic evidence from the survivor of a sexual assault can be a powerful tool in a criminal investigation. Yet hundreds of rape kits have gone untested in San Diego more than in any jurisdiction in the state. The testing backlog dating back years here is finally being cleared here to discuss that development is Andrew Keats, senior investigative reporter and assistant editor at voice of San Diego. Welcome to midday edition eight on Mark. We'll start with a what a rape kit is and why it can be critical to criminal investigators. Speaker 2: 00:36 Yeah, so rape kit includes a number of different swabs that are put onto different parts of the victims body in search of DNA from the alleged perpetrator. It also might include things like nail clippings from the victim, uh, hair trimmings, uh, underwear, anything that from the crime that might help, um, leave trace DNA for the, uh, for the perpetrator. And they're really powerful when you use them. And you can, you can find a DNA sample from a, uh, typically a male. You know, it's typically a male that commits the offense against a woman. Um, if you can find that male DNA and then track it against a federal DNA database, you can find a, you might not know who the DNA sample is for, but if you can track it against the case, there is a possibility that they might be a serial offender. Um, so not only is it a good way to potentially bring justice, uh, to an individual victim, it might be a way to identify serial predators who are, uh, who are really repeating offenses in multiple jurisdictions and confounding investigators by leaving their jurisdiction. And so when you link all those things together, it becomes a pretty powerful investigative tool. Speaker 1: 01:55 And what's been the problem in California with testing these rape kits? How historically is the San Diego police department handle testing and where do we rank among cities with rape kit backlogs? Speaker 2: 02:07 So San Diego is, uh, quite far and away the worst in California at testing the kits that they collect. Now, it is not unheard of in LA. Not too long ago, it wasn't even a uncommon that some of these kits wouldn't be tested. And there are various reasons for that. Um, some of which are agreed upon even by victims. Advocates are an acceptable reason not to test things like the victim decided they did not want to go forward with the situation. They don't want to have it brought up again. Um, they'd like to move on with their lives, um, until a range of things that don't please victims, advocates, things like, uh, the prosecutor declined to prosecute for one reason or another and determined that it wasn't worth the resources, uh, that way to a national movement within the last decade or so to test all kits. Speaker 2: 03:05 Uh, and as that movement gained steam, many jurisdictions began to change their practices. Um, and the state legislature started passing laws to encourage them to change their practices. Federal, uh, law enforcement agencies changed their guidance to local, uh, jurisdictions about changing their policies. And even the city council here in San Diego allocated money to start the process of testing all the kids, even in face of all that SDPD for a long time until very recently had continued to say that their way of doing things was better that they believed the most, uh, fruitful way to handle this was to vet a kit as part of an investigation to determine whether it would be useful not to simply test all kits as a matter of practice. Um, they in September committed to changing that policy and getting all their kids tested. That was following an investigation I did that revealed the crime lab manager, um, had instructed analysts in the crime lab to test certain kids less rigorously and to handle DNA from certain kits less, uh, differently. And that was in service of clearing the backlog under the political pressure to get everything tested. They began implementing these policies once that was revealed, uh, and they, and critically they came under criticism from district attorney summer Stephan for those practices they committed the next day. This was in September, they said, we will now begin the process of testing every kid. Speaker 1: 04:36 And that's her stance. Now summer Stephan says, we're going to test every kit, uh, going forward here. Speaker 2: 04:40 Yeah, some are stuffing had been leading a, a group already of all the other law enforcement agencies in the County and the sheriff to get all of their kids tested prior to, you know, this instance in September, SDPD had elected not to join that process and they were following their own process of kind of going bit by bit and saying, okay, well we'll choose, we'll test some of these cases, but not these. And then they were, they were kind of moving through it that way. Um, so then in September they decided that they would send all the kids that they still had in their possession to a third party lab for blanket testing. There was a state audit recently that came out just last week and that state audit said SDPD had, uh, almost 1700 untested kits in his possession, which was far and away the most out of any jurisdiction that was included in the audit. Uh, Oakland was the second largest. It had 1100 untested kits, lost the Los Angeles police department, which is obviously bigger than SDPD. They had only 500. San Francisco had none at all. Speaker 1: 05:45 And I should know, we reached out to the DA's office for comment when we did not get a response, but how did the San Diego County DA's office react to this California attorney General's finding? Speaker 2: 05:57 Um, so the DA's office chose not to respond. Uh, SDPD did she choose to respond? Uh, they said well that that audit, um, collected data that ended in July of last year. Uh, and obviously in September of this year, we had already committed to test all of their kits. So, uh, I, I guess the implication was that that audit was out of date. I asked further questions and basically asked them what the status was with all of those untested kits. Uh, and they told me that over the course of the first few months of this year, they began sending those kits to Bodie labs. It's a third party lab that does a lot of this testing for other agencies. And so all of those kids have now been sent away, um, but they still have not all been, not been tested. Um, by the end of this month, SDPD expects to get the results back for the first 25 kits of those nearly 1700 kids. Uh, and they'll, they'll get 50 next month and 75 the month after that, and then they'll continue that way every month, um, which leads them to expect that all of those kids will be tested about two years from now. Speaker 1: 07:06 Okay. So that's the status of th that's the unwinding of that. Do we know, um, the kits, do we know when they were collected, was there some confusion over how old some of them are? Speaker 2: 07:17 The audit broke down the, the, uh, the date of kits when they were collected from when the crime took place, um, from before the start of 2016 and after. The reason for that is there was a state law passed last year that mandates the testing of all kids collect, collected after 2016. So it's no longer a discretionary decision at all. SDPD was a unique in the, uh, audit. They were the only agency that couldn't say when those kids were collected from and every one of the SDPD kits was listed as date. Unclear. The SDPD did have, um, a response to that. They said, we don't know why our data was reported that way. They said they don't know who in their department submitted a response to the auditors. Um, and they don't know why they said that they don't know when those kids are from because they do. Speaker 2: 08:13 Um, they were able to provide me a tally from December, which was the latest one they had available, um, which showed that actually the number of untested kits had increased from when the audit was collected, um, at about 1600 to the 1,627 until the end of the year, which was, uh, over 1700. And they were able to break down whether those were from before 2016 or after 2016. Uh, and it turns out they were from about 1200 of them were from before 2016 and about 500 of them were from after 2016. Um, now both of those numbers would still be the most in the state. So there before 2016 number is more than any other agency in the state. And there after 2016 number is also more than any other agency in the state. Speaker 1: 09:03 Now they'd been clearing the backlog of some of these untested rape kits. Do we know whether the evidence uncovered has led to arrests and prosecutions of rapists here or why would they be useful otherwise? Speaker 2: 09:13 Yeah, so we don't actually know if they have led to a wrestler prosecutions. That's certainly a question we would love to have answered. Um, what I can say, uh, I did a story last year with a freelancer, Kelly Davis, and we were able to find that there was one specific slice of time, um, between, uh, November the end of 2017 and November, 2018 so about a year, um, the department in during that time had screened 300 of their old previously untested kits. Of those 300, um, about 100 yielded a viable DNA DNA profile that they could put into the federal database. So that is in itself a significant from an investigative perspective. Uh, and of those roughly 100 that yielded a day in a DNA profile, 38 matched one that was already in the database. So this is useful data when they do these tests. Speaker 1: 10:13 All right. And final question, uh, they're whittling this down now, the backlog about 75 cases a month, as you say. Uh, is that due to financial constraints or what's the, uh, the reason they can't do more than that? Speaker 2: 10:26 I the, the initial slow pace then, you know, 25 this month and 50 next month, that was a, as the SDPD explained to me that they, they've never had tests done by this outside labs, so they kind of wanted to ease into it to figure out how the data would be reported back to them, formatting those sorts of things, which, which makes a certain amount of sense of the 75, uh, per month I do suspect is, um, funding. Speaker 1: 10:51 I've been speaking with Andrew Keats, senior investigative reporter and assistant editor at voice of San Diego. Thanks very much, Andy. Speaker 2: 10:58 All right, thanks Mark.

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A state audit mandated by a 2018 law found that the SDPD had the most untested rape kits of any large California police department — 1,627. The department says testing is in progress, and the first results are expected this week.
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