California Audit Calls for Better Use of Rape Kits

The California Legislature should require law enforcement agencies to do a better job using and keeping track of evidence they collect from sexual assault victims that could contain DNA evidence, state auditors said Thursday after examining the San Diego Police Department and two other agencies.

The audit says lawmakers should require agencies to submit the sexual-assault evidence kits for analysis every time a suspect's identity is unknown. State Auditor Elaine Howle said the Legislature also should require crime labs to finish analyzing the evidence within two years of the assault.

The kits can contain clothing, hair samples, swabs and other evidence. However, there currently are no federal or state laws or regulations that require law enforcement agencies to track or report information about the number of kits that go untested.

Auditors examined the practices of three sample agencies: the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department and the police departments in Oakland and San Diego.

They found the three agencies collected a combined 1,900 kits from 2011 through 2013, but only about 850 -- less than half -- were analyzed by crime labs.

"(U)nanalyzed kits could be a missed opportunity to benefit other investigations through a DNA match," the auditors said, though they found no specific cases that went unsolved because kits weren't tested.

Jill Spriggs, director of Sacramento County's lab, said the county this year began testing 100 percent of rape kits and tested kits that had gone unanalyzed in previous years.

Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed into law a bill, AB1517, by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, requiring law enforcement agencies to submit most rape kits to crime labs within 20 days, and labs to process the DNA evidence and submit it to the national Combined DNA Index System within 120 days. Comparing the DNA profiles to the national database can link crimes to previously identified assailants whose DNA is already in the system.

Auditors also recommended that local law enforcement agencies require their investigators to document their reasoning when they don't seek testing in specific cases.

The Legislature should require better reporting of kit analyses to the state Department of Justice, and the department should require more information from counties that use the department's laboratory for rapid DNA analysis, the auditors said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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