It’s been nearly two years since a state audit found that less than half of all rape kits at three California law enforcement agencies were actually analyzed.
Since then, two of the agencies – the Oakland and Sacramento police departments – have made it a practice to test all sexual assault kits. The third agency examined in the audit, the San Diego Police Department, is doubling down on its decision to leave many kits untested.
SDPD said it has roughly 2,400 sexual-assault kits that haven’t been sent to the crime lab for testing.
The 2014 audit, a response to scrutiny over why so many kits were never analyzed as evidence, underscored how little was known about why some sexual assault kits were never tested while others were — and, more important, whether testing more kits would help solve more crimes.
“Analysis of sexual assault evidence kits can be instrumental in furthering the investigations of sexual assaults, especially if the analysis of this evidence occurs within two years of the date of the offense,” the audit found, though “the extent to which analyzing more kits would improve arrest and conviction rates is uncertain.”
It’s only been in the last several years that victim advocacy groups have started to get a handle on how many sexual assault kits are gathering dust on evidence room shelves. The kits hold the forensic evidence gathered through an invasive, lengthy exam of a victim after a sexual assault — hair, semen, saliva, blood — that crime lab technicians use to develop a DNA profile of the assailant. But many kits go unanalyzed.
We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?
San Diego Law Enforcement says there's no reason to test rape kits, but evidence proves that cases get solved as a direct result of rape kit testing.
For example, in 2016 Ohio tested ~5,000 untested rape kits and found that more than half of sexual assaults were committed by serial rapists. They were able to make over 250 convictions of people who were raping multiple woman, or had committed other unsolved crimes like murder, that we solved by getting the kits tested.
This is not ok. It's particularly relevant because the US Congress has just passed a Rape Victims Bill of Rights with broad bi-partisan support in both houses.
How dare they use money as an excuse? The City Council had an easy time spending $1 million on a study to see how much the price of the Irwin Jacobs Balboa Park plan had inflated in the last 5 years. That after spending 3-4 million on this "free" plan already. Is there anyone that thinks a vote between "test rape kits" or "study inflation on a possible project without a funding source" would result in more than a 2% vote for the latter?
@Erik Hanson Priorities...
Second guessing police decisions is a natural pastime for politicians including ex-politicians with time on their hands. If it’s not the details of police camera usage it’s patrol practices or police lab procedures. The possibilities are endless.
What we’re dealing with here is a department which, over a period of many decades, has had a very positive relationship with the people it serves. This is not Ferguson, Baltimore or Chicago. There have been a few bad cops that had to be dealt with and this was done, not as fast as we might like, but accomplished. There have been procedural problems that have also been dealt with. The is not your “thin blue line” attitude like LAPD used to have and still does to some extent. It’s community oriented, and this has enabled SDPD to get by with very lean staffing.
We have also had a series of police chiefs who knew their stuff and were not afraid to get out into the community rather than sitting behind a desk. And, although there have been problems, often caused by budget constraints, things like the police dispatcher shortage that needed fixing, the department has been responsive to public input and looks at criticism as an opportunity for improvement.
In short, folks, thank the department for doing a fine job and let’s continue to support these people.
It appears our understanding of "doing a fine job" is a bit different. The job doesn't end with arrests- it involves investigation, prosecution, hopefully conviction, and ideally: prevention
To that end: Are you disputing the facts from numerous studies, that argue against the local law enforcement policy of leaving evidence untested, and allowing criminals to go free?
Results from other cities are compelling. Throughout the US, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors that have tested ALL sexual assault evidence kits have identified people who were originally accused of "only" DV or raping and/or sexually abusing others, and determined they have also been committing other violent crimes. these range from serial sexual assault to murder, committed before they are finally ID'd via DNA.
This is why the nearly $500,000 grant from the federal DOJ, received this week by the city and county of San Diego to enhance the ability to test ALL DNA, is so important. Without these funds and required additional testing and reporting, they may continue to leave these evidence kits untested.
As other investigations have proven: there are many additional violent crimes that will go unsolved, criminals who will avoid prosecution, and survivors and/or their families will be denied justice if SDPD and San Diego County don't move their DNA labs into the 21st century with the help of these grants, and also change these policies.
And note that nowhere in my remarks did I defend this particular practice. The decision here may be problematic, but there are limits to resources of every organization and SDPD has had it's share of tight budgets. When Chief Zimmerman's predecessor was faced with deep cuts, he laid off just about anyone in the department who wasn't either a sworn officer or a dispatcher because his highest priority was having the capability to handle a major emergency. I thought he overreacted but it was his decision and I felt he was experienced enough to know what he was doing.
It's easy to throw mud at police departments, but before "convicting" this one people ought to look at it's record over time. I believe Chief Zimmerman makes good, considered decisions, and I wouldn't be surprised to discover she is taking another look at this right now. But she's not going to be swayed by the "everyone else does it" approach.
I'm not sure where you've been, but SDPD has not been "community oriented" by any standard except using the name for almost 20 years.
We're talking about the agency that received money to track misconduct claims, and didn't produce;
An agency where supervisors failed to supervise;
An agency in which an officer sued based on a statement that they police differently in minority neighborhoods;
An agency that has abhorred transparency for officer misconduct to the point of sequestering third party videos ("to preserve the investigation") even where there was no ongoing investigation!
Where two officers in a matter of years racked up a series of sexual misconduct complaints (and do you really think their comrades and supervisors had no suspicion?).
An agency that promised reform, didn't deliver, and promised reform again, which still has not been delivered.
To be clear, I don't think anyone becomes a police officer because they want to abuse authority. I think they are taught to abuse authority, and they learn within a few months that there's no consequences to that abuse. The middle and senior management for the past 20 years have forgotten that community support is easier to lose than to earn. Chief Zimmerman's obfuscation (if not outright deception) on some issues doesn't help. There is now a cadre of young sergeants and lieutenants who never learned how to earn public trust, which makes it unlikely that the downward slide will end anytime soon. Zimmerman will be gone soon, and her successor will find that there is no institutionalized methodology for keeping the public on their side.
And just FYI, and IMO, second guessing ANY government agency is both a right and a duty, particularly of the political leadership. But this is particularly true of a government agency with the ability to deprive individuals of liberty (if not life).
@DavidM @Bill Bradshaw OK, you got me. I'll admit that, for almost nine of the last twenty years I was a volunteer with SDPD in the Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol, coincidentally beginning 1996, 20 years ago. Job didn't pay much but I had an interesting time doing non-hazardous stuff that's always dumped on police departments when it's not obvious who is responsible for it, things like visiting elderly widowers living alone, and I helped at accidents and flood sites and cited scofflaws in "disabled" parking spots. Got involved in crowd control situations and observed first hand how nasty many of the citizenry can be, particularly when drunk or doped up. Met a lot of good cops and a few not-so-good ones.
What I remember most about the department was that, thanks to the city council's follies on the pension plan, SDPD carried out drastic cuts in service including elimination of a lot of community outreach. I remember that they used to have a very nice volunteer luncheon annually and used to furnish all the uniform items for the volunteers. No more lunches, volunteers now pay for some of their gear, a general belt tightening took place which hasn't returned to the good old days (if there were any).
So, your theory is that SDPD takes eager young recruits and turns them into bullies? That SDPD is a breeding ground for supervisors that teach officer misconduct and disrespect for the public? I can't respond to that because I left the department about ten years ago, and didn't see any of that stuff, but it's hard to believe.
Since leaving the volunteer job I set up a Neighborhood Watch in my community, and the cops were extremely helpful because they really understand the program. Like any organization, when dealing with them it helps to understand their priorities and procedures. One thing every citizen should know is that cops, in every agency, are taught, first and foremost, to take control of any situation they confront. I think this is the basis of many "problems" between police and the public, and not just in San Diego. Asserting rights in tense situations is simply stupid!
Since you seem to get your jollies by asserting your "duty" to criticize government agencies (and believe me I've done my share of that), tell me something: What police organization do YOU think almost always does things right? Sherriff's Dept? CHP? LAPD? Chicago? Baltimore?.....
You misunderstand me Bill. I have memories of SDPD being a community oriented agency as well, and they go all the way back to Ray Hoobler, who resigned because his loyalty to the agency trumped his obligation to the truth. I have several friends who are current officer, including one sergeant. They are not bad people; they are poorly led, and have been for quite a while. Read the DOJ report.
When it was released, Chief Zimmerman said some of the recommendations were already implemented, and all would be. We are now more than a year later, and waiting. Zimmerman is a caretaker; she was not destined to do anything as controversial as fixing what's broken, or trying something new.
By the way your picture (small as it is) looks like an RSVP officer who helped me change a tire on Camino del Rio North near Rancho Mission Road a while back. (Well, not helped me change, but certainly kept my sister's car from being struck by directing others around it.) Thanks!
First, thank you for this report. As I noted during the mayoral campaign: when authorities don't test evidence in these criminal investigations they demonstrate an appalling indifference to ensuring justice for survivors of sexual assaults and other violent crimes. That's why I encouraged the city to apply for DOJ funds to have the capacity to clear these backlogged kits.
Now, it appears the federal Department of Justice has determined both San Diego City and the County can do a better job on testing DNA evidence.
Yesterday, I was very happy to hear from Wendy Fry at NBC that both the city and county have received DOJ grant funding to improve DNA testing in their labs. Fry reported that DOJ has awarded $235,604 to the City of San Diego and $242,699 to the San Diego County Sheriff to enhance their DNA analysis capacity. (The Sheriff's department also has a backlog of several hundred sexual assault evidence kits.)
Finally, it's important to understand that testing these kits will not only help solve the reported crime, but likely many others, including some that have not been reported. (Many survivors of rape and sexual assault don't report due to intimidation, no memory of the assault due to drugs or alcohol, etc.)
Nationwide, cities that have used these DOJ funds - AND made commitments to clear 100% of their backlog of "rape kits"- have determined that many people who commit these crimes are subsequently identified as suspects in other violent acts, from serial rapes to serial murders. They have used this evidence to prosecute and convict on other previously unsolved cases.
That's why seeking the funds and committing to do the testing on these 2400+ rape kits was one of my Mayoral campaign issues: it's been proven that people who commit one violent crime are much more likely to be involved in others. So in addition to providing justice to the survivors of the past assault, it is simply good public safety policy to test ALL of these kits, to prevent assaults in the future and solve other crimes linked to that person.
Bottom line: it's time to clear the backlog of rape kits and other DNA evidence from SDPD evidence files.
Happy to see this will be moving forward with help from federal DOJ funding.
Does processing backlogged rape kits lead to arrests, prosecutions and convictions? YES.
From: The Horrifying Consequences of Our National Rape Kit Backlog, April 2, 2016
“When rape kits are actually put to the test, it’s impossible to put a price on the returns they yield for survivors and others. In Ohio, tests of 10,000 backlogged kits have led to 445 indictments. Houston, Texas, after clearing its backlog of almost 6,700 kits, discovered “850 matches, 29 prosecutions and 6 convictions,” per USA Today. Last year, the Detroit Free Press reported that an effort to test the city’s 12,000 kits has identified “2,478 suspects—including 456 serial rapists...and 20 convictions have been secured.” Some of those cases have likely been cold for a long time, and without testing, would have remained that way.”