By Jonah Owen Lamb
Source: San Francisco Examiner
The San Francisco Police Department is fully in compliance with new rules requiring it to test rape kits and notify victims about those results, department officials told the Police Commission on Wednesday night.
Since October 2016, the department has worked under new protocols in an effort to prevent rape kits from going untested, as had been the case in recent years. Despite the new protocols, the department up until January had not met its mandate of testing all kits and notifying victims if a DNA hit comes back from the national database.
The Police Commission, which passed a resolution on the matter in April 2016, modeled the rules and deadlines on the state’s Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights, which requires DNA testing of rape kits within five days of collection. It also calls for all results to be uploaded to a national DNA database within 120 days. The department is required to notify victims and track the process if a DNA match is found in the national database.
“We can potentially catch a serial sexual offender,” said SFPD Capt. Greg Mar, who heads the Forensic Services Division, which runs the crime lab.
These new standards came after a longstanding issue with a rape kit backlog, which included hundreds of untested kits as well as a failure to upload some of the data into the federal DNA database.
Heather Marlowe, who wrote and starred in “The Haze,” a play about her experience with the SFPD after she was raped, remained skeptical on Thursday, despite the department’s reported progress.
“Rape kits are just a symptom of the issue of failures of properly investigating these cases. You can take a rape kit and upload it in [to the national database] and do no investigation,” said Marlowe, whose lawsuit against the department is ongoing.
Marlowe’s activism was instrumental in pushing the department into action around the rape kit backlog, which she said remains an issue as some victims remain uncontacted. (emphasis added.)
RECENT DATA PROCESSING
The SFPD’s latest report included data on 177 rape kits from the first half of this year.
Of the 177 rape kits turned into the department, 165 were tested within five days. The few untested kits were either not turned in on time by outside agencies or due to a time lag in reporting at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.
From January to June, the department completed the testing of 150 kits. Twenty-seven remain in progress, all within the 120 days allotted.
So far this year, the department was able to upload 96 rape kit DNA samples to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, known as CODIS. The department had 30 matches. In 2016, there were 140 uploads with 46 matches.
Tests that have no clean DNA sample cannot be uploaded.
Results can take anywhere from one day to 86 days, which is the case for the crime lab’s longest case. The difference in time is due to everything from the type of test material — semen, blood or body fluids — to the items from which DNA is extracted.
Once a DNA test is done and uploaded into the national database, the department may then get a DNA hit, linking the sample to a known suspect.
Victims have the option of being notified if a DNA match is found. The department is in 100 percent compliance with notifying victims.
“We’ve either notified or attempted to notify [every victim],” said SFPD Capt. Una Bailey, who heads the Special Victims Unit, which investigates rapes.