Morning Report: Backlogged Rape Kits Yielded Dozens of DNA Hits - Voice of San Diego

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Morning Report: Backlogged Rape Kits Yielded Dozens of DNA Hits

The San Diego Police Department headquarters / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The San Diego Police Department has long contended that the testing of all rape kits is not appropriate. The smarter and more efficient approach, police leaders argued, was to investigate a case first to determine whether the kit would become a useful piece of evidence later.

Many victims-rights groups disagreed. And in 2017, the City Council allocated $500,000 to the department to test the backlogged kits. The results of those tests suggest that the investigate-first approach might not have been the best after all

Through a public records request, VOSD contributor Kelly Davis and Andrew Keatts found that between late 2017 and November 2018, the department screened 313 backlogged kits — 121 of which yielded a viable DNA profile that was uploaded to a federal database. Thirty-eight of those profiles matched to one already in the database, generating a possible lead. 

But even if a kit yields a DNA profile hit, that doesn’t necessarily mean the department will reopen the investigation. A police spokesman said victim cooperation is still needed before the case is forwarded to District Attorney Summer Stephan’s office for review. 

Last year, Stephan announced she would allocate $1 million from her own budget to clear the county’s backlog of sexual assault kits by sending them to a third-party lab for testing. Stephan said she offered assistance to SDPD, but the department declined.

Twice this year, crime lab management has changed its policy on testing and uploading kits that were part of the backlog to speed up the process, potentially undermining the kits’ investigative value. In March, supervisors told staff to analyze only one swab from a kit instead of the previously required six swabs but reversed course after Keatts asked about the policy. In May came another policy change that resulted in fewer profiles being uploaded to CODIS.

So You Missed Politifest …

That’s OK because we’ve published many of the discussions over the last week. The latest is a debate over the city’s hotel room tax measure between homeless advocate Michael McConnell and San Diego Convention Center board member Gil Cabrera. 

Cabrera’s a yes. He argued that a larger Convention Center would bring in more business and revenue from tourists. McConnell’s a no. He argues that the measure does not guarantee funding for homelessness services.

For this week’s podcast, Scott Lewis, Sara Libby and Andrew Keatts highlighted some of their favorite moments from the event. They also discussed SDSU’s new and improved offer for the Mission Valley stadium land and explained why that marks a critical moment in the negotiations. 

But hang on. We’re not done talking about how awesome Politifest was and by extension how awesome we are. 

In the Sacramento Report, Libby also spotlighted references to SB 50, which were dropped into virtually every panel and discussion. The bill would have forced cities to allow more density near transit and job centers. It was put on hold last year, and will return in the next legislative session for further debate.

City Councilwoman Barbara Bry has consistently vilified the bill and highlighted her opposition to it in campaign pitches. Bry’s opponent for San Diego mayor, Assemblyman Todd Gloria, has said he does think it’s appropriate for Sacramento to set some rules for local planning, but doesn’t necessarily support this measure “as it’s currently constituted.” 

On homelessness, Gloria is a supporter of the “housing-first” model, which says people need to be sheltered before they can tackle any underlying mental health or substance abuse problems. Bry is more skeptical: She believes that viewing homelessness as a housing problem “has dug a deep and dangerous hole that has swallowed the homeless in a cycle of hopelessness and threatens the health and safety of our entire community.”

U-T columnist Michael Smolens explains their respective positions

County Officials Expect a Lotta New Voters in March

County officials warned the Board of Supervisors that they’re worried about their ability to pull off the March election without money for new satellite voting centers. A new state law allows same-day voter registration at any polling location in California, and San Diego is expecting a rush of people. 

To move the necessary $900,000 around, officials needed four of the five supervisors to sign off. Three said yes. The other two were unmoved. 

But as Andrew Keatts and Scott Lewis explain in the Politics Report, there’s a possible workaround. Board Chair Dianne Jacob is going to propose Monday that the money come from a different fund. Transferring it would require a simple majority, rather than supermajority, of the supervisors. 

Spoiler: Some people are unhappy. 

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by Jesse Marx and edited by Sara Libby.

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