With Los Angeles struggling to eliminate a backlog in the processing of more than 7,000 rape kits -- the evidence collected from the crime scene and victim's body after a rape report -- Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and members of Congress from the Los Angeles area sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller asking that they work with the City of Los Angeles to develop immediate solutions to expeditiously process remaining sexual assault evidence kits. In the City of Los Angeles alone, 1,700 kits were awaiting a technical review on March 1, and that number is only growing.
"The thousands of sexual assault evidence kits currently awaiting technical review could be uploaded into the national database much more quickly in a reformed technical review process," Rep. Schiff said. "We believe that Los Angeles can serve as a pilot to demonstrate the feasibility of alternatives, taking dangerous people off the street, speeding justice for victims of assault, saving scarce resources, and improving our use of DNA technologies."
The City of Los Angeles has attacked its backlog by sending evidence kits to accredited private laboratories, which process the evidence, identify any possible suspect DNA profiles, and send it back to the LAPD's crime lab. Unfortunately, FBI rules require a time-consuming, manual review by the LAPD lab before a kit can actually be uploaded into the national database (called CODIS) to be matched against possible suspects. Of the thousands of kits that have received technical reviews by the LAPD, none has identified a mistake that would impact the integrity of the DNA database or allow a rapist to go undetected. After years of resistance, the FBI has agreed to look at the technical review rules to make them less onerous on law enforcement.
"We welcome this development, but for Los Angeles, the six months to a year that it will take to undertake this review is simply too long," Rep. Schiff said. "It will result in millions of dollars in unnecessary spending and, most importantly, it will slow the process of identifying potential suspects in these assaults."
"Closing the rape kit backlog requires a sustained commitment," said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. "Congressman Schiff's leadership has been invaluable in pushing to revise current rules to provide immediate financial relief for the City and bring swifter justice for rape victims."
"Failure to upload results into CODIS in a timely manner denies the investigators access to valuable investigative information and justice for crime victims, allowing criminals to continue to roam and prey on society," said Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck. "Although we've made substantial progress in eliminating the backlog, the current requirement for a law enforcement lab to verify the outsourced results is redundant, bureaucratic, and defeats the purpose of outsourcing. We hope Congressman Adam Schiff's attention to this important issue will result in new procedures that will allow us utilize our resources more efficiently and identify potential suspects in Los Angeles."
Below is the full text of the letter sent to Attorney General Holder and FBI Director Mueller:
May 11, 2010
Dear Attorney General Holder/Director Mueller:
We write as Members of Congress from the Los Angeles area with a commitment to law enforcement and the rights of sexual assault victims. As you know, Los Angeles has been struggling to eliminate a backlog of thousands of sexual assault kits that have waited years for processing. Through a joint federal and local effort, the end is finally in sight for the rape kit backlog, in large part because the City has dedicated substantial resources to outsourcing the extraction of suspect DNA profiles to accredited private laboratories.
However, due to burdensome and unnecessary technical review requirements required by the Quality Assurance Standards for Forensic DNA Laboratories, there is a second backlog of cases developing. These are kits that have been returned to the public lab, but due to a lack of resources and manpower they wait months to be uploaded into CODIS. In the evidence that awaits review, there are doubtless profiles of offenders who will continue to walk the streets and assault additional victims while this evidence awaits entry to CODIS. In the City of Los Angeles alone there were 1,700 kits awaiting technical review on March 1, and the number is only growing.
We appreciate that the FBI announced in March a review of the technical review rules with an eye towards revising them later this year. We eagerly await further details as to what the review will entail. However, in the meantime, the problem in Los Angeles is more pressing than the months or years this review could take. The LAPD has performed thousands of technical reviews on rape kits already, and they have not found a single error by a private lab that would impact the integrity of CODIS or allowed a suspect to escape scrutiny. The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department has a similar experience.
We are concerned that even the most aggressive timeline will result in months of delays in the closing of the rape kit backlog in Los Angeles and cost millions of scarce budget funds. For that reason, we ask that you work with the City of Los Angeles to develop immediate alternatives to 100 percent technical review. The thousands of sexual assault evidence kits currently awaiting technical review could serve as the proof of concept for a reformed technical review process. We believe that Los Angeles can serve as a pilot to demonstrate the feasibility of alternatives, thereby speeding justice for victims of assault, saving scarce resources, and improving our use of DNA technologies. We are eager to work with you to make this vision a reality, along with Mayor Villaraigosa and the leadership of Los Angeles.
Your timely consideration of this matter is appreciated.
Rep. Adam Schiff
Rep. Howard Berman
Rep. Henry Waxman
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard
Rep. Linda Sanchez
Rep. Laura Richardson
Rep. Diane Watson
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher
Rep. Judy Chu
Rep. Jane Harman