What to Know
- A 2015 report by USA Today stated more than 70,000 neglected forensic evidence kits amassed by more than 1,000 police agencies.
- In 2014, state auditors supported SDPD's decision not to forward 15 sex assault cases to a lab but said testing all kits could be beneficial
- Few states and no federal agencies require law enforcement to track the number of untested kits.
San Diego City Council received an update at their meeting Tuesday on how many sexual assault testing kits are being forensically tested by the San Diego Police Department.
A 2014 state audit found San Diego police tested 47 percent of sexual assault evidence kits. A San Diego Police Department spokesperson said that as of December 2017, the total number of kits tested increased to 57 percent.
However, police officials say not all rape kits held by the SDPD can or will be tested.
An exam performed on victims of sex crimes within 72 hours, a rape kit can help lead to identifying an attacker or a rapist. The kits can contain clothing, hair samples and swabs that may hold DNA evidence.
Victims' rights organizations have raised concerns about forensic evidence left untested in police agencies across the country.
Councilmember David Alvarez (District 8) is among those asking questions. In May 2016, he asked the council why more rape kits weren't being tested by San Diego police.
"We need to make sure that victims who've gone through a very invasive procedure to do that kit collection get their justice," Alvarez said.
When NBC 7 spoke with Alvarez Wednesday, the councilmember said there are over 500 kits backlogged that have not been tested.
Critics define a rape kit backlog as any rape kit that has not been tested. The San Diego Police Department defines a backlogged kit as any rape kit waiting to be tested.
Lieutenant Scott Wahl of the San Diego Police Department said there is no backlog, adding those kits are inventory and will be analyzed if an investigation called for it.
On Tuesday, SDPD officials told councilmembers that the Department of Justice does not recommend forensic testing of all backlogged rape kits.
Testing the kits costs money and does not necessarily lead to a conviction, police officials said.
According to the SDPD presentation, the Los Angeles Police Department tested 6,132 kits at a cost of $10.27 million. The process resulted in four convictions.
SDPD said Wednesday there are various reasons why rape kits are not tested.
For instance, the victim no longer wants an investigation, police determined a crime did not occur, or there's not enough evidence to put it into the national DNA database.
By law, police are not allowed to put DNA into the database if a crime has not occurred, for privacy purposes.
San Diego police gave updated numbers from December 2017 to the council. As of last month, 2,569 kits out of 4,532 have been tested, about 57 percent.
The increase reflects a change in the types of cases they receive and the kits counted, police said.
In 2014, victim and suspect kits were counted. The new number reflects just victim kits, which they test in higher volumes, Lt. Wahl said Wednesday.
Councilmember David Alvarez released this statement:
“I have been vocal in my concerns for several years regarding the lack of testing of these kits and am pleased that the Council allocated resources to reduce the current backlog. There should be no excuses. If a victim goes through the invasive process of being tested, the least we can do is review evidence collected. Other cities have this commitment to justice and we should as well.”
Alvarez said he would like to see police process 100 percent of the kits that can be legally be tested.
City Attorney Mara Elliott agrees. In October, she spoke to NBC 7 about her office's appeal to Gov. Jerry Brown to sign bills that would allow taxpayers the option of donating money to help fund rape kit processing as well as expand protections for rape survivors.
“Other cities test every kit,” said Elliott at the time. “San Diego should test every kit.”
Lt. Wahl said this protocol is already in place.