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Berkeley Assemblywoman's Bill to Reduce Rape DNA Kit Backlog Approved by Committee

AB 1517 would amend the state's Sexual Assault Victims' DNA Bill of Rights to specify that law enforcement agencies should submit rape kits for testing within five days

Screenshot of the FBI CODIS website: www.fbi.gov/about-us/lab/biometric-analysis/codis
Screenshot of the FBI CODIS website: www.fbi.gov/about-us/lab/biometric-analysis/codis
By Bay City News—

A bill by a Berkeley Assemblywoman that would provide timeframes for testing rape kits and entering the information into a national DNA database was unanimously approved by an Assembly committee today.
 
Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner's AB 1517 would amend the state's Sexual Assault Victims' DNA Bill of Rights to specify that law enforcement agencies should submit rape kits for testing within five days and that forensic laboratories should submit the information from rape kits to CODIS, the national database of DNA profiles, within 30 days.
 
At hearing before the Assembly Public Safety Committee today chaired by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, Skinner, D-Berkeley, said there are a large number of sexual forensic evidence kits languishing in evidence rooms in law enforcement agencies around the state, untested.

One estimate puts the number of untested rape kits at around 400,000 nationally.

"We are finding that the focus has been on crime labs but there are too many rape kits sitting in evidence rooms that never make it to the crime lab," Skinner said.
 
In an audit launched in June 2011, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley determined that there were 1,900 untested rape kits in Alameda County alone.
 
O'Malley, who testified today in favor of Skinner's bill, told the committee that only 21 percent of all rapes result in an arrest in California.
 
"There are reasons to test every single kit," O'Malley said. "We have far too many examples of stranger rapes where the crime has been solved through the database, and marital rapes where the accused has been tied to a stranger rape."
 
Skinner noted that in New York City, a backlog of 17,000 rape kits was tested in 2003 and a new policy was put in place requiring the testing of all rape kits in evidence. The arrest rate rose from 40 percent to 70 percent as a result of the change, well above the national average of 24 percent.
 
"This approach works, it's effective," Skinner said. Natasha Alexenko, a sexual assault survivor whose rape and robbery went unsolved for nine years until New York City police tested evidence in the case in 2003, testified to the committee that her rapist went on a "nationwide crime spree" in the intervening years that could have been prevented.
 
"The cost to test my kit was nothing to what it cost the taxpayers throughout this country and what it cost law enforcement to have this individual continue to commit crimes," Alexenko said.
 
While the bill has strong support from groups representing crime victims and district attorneys, opposition was expressed today by the California State Sheriff's Association and the California Association of Crime Labs directors. Both groups said that while they supported the call for quick turnaround of rape kits, they felt the bill as written set goals that might not be achievable given limited resources.
 
"It's unrealistic that all law enforcement agencies be able to report all forensic evidence within 5 days," said Cory Salzillo, speaking on behalf of the sheriff's association. Ammiano said he was "appalled" to hear opposition to the bill.
 
"There's nothing practical about rape," Ammiano said. Skinner said a similar bill had been vetoed once before by a past governor during a recession due to limited resources, but she noted that the state is no longer in a recession and the federal government has supplied additional funds for testing.
 
She said she hoped to work with crime labs, law enforcement and district attorneys to streamline the process and bring down the cost of testing to make it more reasonable.

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