DNA-testing mandate explored

DNA evidence from sexual assaults in San Francisco would no longer be allowed to sit untested on shelves under a new proposal.

In the wake of a scandal at the Police Department’s crime lab that laid bare problems in the facility, city lawmakers are proposing that every sexual assault case have DNA evidence gathered and processed in a timely manner.

When a person is sexually assaulted in San Francisco, any DNA evidence on their body is swabbed. It then is placed on a shelf in the hospital’s rape-trauma unit. Once a week, a police officer comes to pick up the swabs and takes them to the crime lab, where sometimes they are tested within a couple weeks, sometimes long after and sometimes never at all.

This procedure, described by police Commissioner Jim Hammer and Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, may change with legislation they have asked the city attorney to draft.

The proposed legislation would require every swab from every victim of rape or sexual assault to be tested — even if the assailant is known to the person or admits to the assault, or if the rape victim does not plan to go forward with charges.

It would lay out a “swift timeline” by which the swabs would be tested.

San Francisco would not be the first city to require every rape case to be DNA tested, Hammer said. Los Angeles and New York, among other cities, require it, he said. The theory is that even if a rapist is known, requiring every rape to be tested allows police and prosecutors to know if an alleged perpetrator has previously been accused of assault.

“What people have found is if you start testing all those cases and feed them into the database, you can start seeing patterns,” he said. “And sometimes a victim might feel like they were in part responsible or that nobody will believe them, but if they find out that this guy’s DNA shows up in three other date-rape cases, they might decide to go forward with it.”

The new procedures would come with a dedicated source of funding, and the Police Department would be required to provide a report about it once a year to the Board of Supervisors.

Police Capt. Jeff Godown, assistant chief for operations, said that neither Alioto-Pier nor Hammer had approached him about the proposed legislation, which “kind of concerned” him, but he was not sure if anyone else in the department was aware of it.

Problems about the crime lab became a focus of attention after former criminalist Deborah Madden admitted to taking drugs from the facility.

After the revelations about the drug testing, there were reports that the lab had not been able to diminish its lengthy backlog of cases for years, and that a particular rape kit sat untested for months while the alleged assailant went on to rape and murder another victim.

Rule change

Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier has asked the city attorney to draft legislation that would change the procedure for testing rape and sexual assault cases in The City. These are the proposed requirements:

*Test DNA samples in every rape or sexual assault case.
*Establish swift timeline for testing DNA evidence.
*Lay out coordination plan between law enforcement agencies and health care providers .
*Report annually to Board of Supervisors on testing and prosecution rates.
*Create dedicated funding source for DNA testing through new fines on offenders.

Source: Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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