350 Untested Rape Kits Sent to Outside Lab: DA

A shift in how the San Diego County Sheriff's Department will handle rape kits includes additional analysts to help keep up with demand.

Approximately 1,000 untested rape kits sitting in storage in San Diego County will undergo testing and the results will be added to a nationwide database in the hopes the information will help prevent future crimes, the San Diego County District Attorney's Office said Tuesday.

Victims' rights organizations have raised concerns about forensic evidence left untested in police agencies across the country including here in San Diego County.

On Monday, San Diego County's District Attorney Summer Stephan announced her office has sent 350 untested rape kits to Bodie Cellmark Forensics, an outside certified lab. Results are expected by the end of the month. She's allocated $1 million to pay for the expedited testing of approximately 1,000 kits.

Of the kits, about 400 are from the sheriff's department with approximately 600 kits from eight other police agencies in the region. The untested rape kits held by the San Diego Police Department are not part of the program. 

“By having these rape kits tested and in the CODIS database it allows us to link and allow past victims to support new victims so we can bring these perpetrators to justice,” Stephan said Tuesday.

The Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) holds convicted offender and arrestee profiles.

Victims of sexual assaults who are interested in knowing the status of the DNA kit can contact investigators through (858) 514-4661 or email kittestresults@sdsheriff.org.

Mike Grubb, Director of the San Diego County Sheriff's Crime Lab said his agency investigates approximately 150 sex crimes cases every year. 

At the start of 2018, the lab had 175 cases that had been set aside for various reasons over the years, he said.

"It is those hundreds of cases that were not being pursued in an investigation that are the subject of this project," Grubb said.   

"So that we can clear the shelves in not only our crime lab, our sheriff's department but in all other police departments throughout the county," he said. 

The department has allocated two additional lab analysts so that, moving forward, they will be able to keep up with the rape kits it receives.

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.

"Testing rape kits for perpetrators is one more step to validate survivors that they are not going to be blamed and that we as a community are going to do everything in our power to seek justice," said Verna Griffin-Tabor, CEO/Executive Director, Center for Community Solutions.

In 2017, a San Diego Police Department spokesperson told NBC 7 there was no backlog, adding those kits are inventory and will be analyzed if an investigation called for it. 

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. 

Testing the kits costs money and does not necessarily lead to a conviction, police officials said. 

In August, the Department of Justice changed its guidelines directing all rape kits be tested.

Stephan said all local agencies are working toward the new guidelines, including tests of victims where the perpetrator may be known. 

She said the San Diego Police Department has expanded its categories to ensure more rape kits undergo testing. However, she wanted to discuss the project involving the eight police agencies contracted to work with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. 

It costs an estimated $1,000 to test each kit, Stephan said.

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