Rape-case testing falls behind

If you watch too many crime shows, you may have the impression that if a woman is raped at midnight, the DNA test results are back the next morning.

Not so in San Francisco, where police might not even pick up a rape kit from the hospital for nearly a week, and the subsequent DNA test can take months to complete.

But San Francisco’s reality could edge a little closer to Hollywood’s if legislation is approved that would require every rape kit to be picked up within 72 hours and tested within 14 days. The legislation would require every rape victim to be tested for DNA, even when the perpetrator is well-known to the victim or police.

The legislation was introduced last week by Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, who will be termed out of office Jan. 8. Her staff said they expect the legislation to be considered by the Public Safety Committee on Dec. 6, then approved by the full board within the next few weeks.

According to San Francisco police Capt. Donna Meixner, the department already tests all rape kits — even when the perpetrator is known — but there is no standardized response time for DNA tests. As it stands, some rape kits are tested within five days, but others take months. The department has been outsourcing some DNA tests to other crime labs to have quicker results.

San Francisco is the site of about 150 rapes a year, about half done by strangers and half by known perpetrators, according to police. About 90 percent of the rapes are tested, while about 10 percent are not — usually because the rape is reported too late for DNA evidence to be collected, according to Meixner.

Police Commissioner Jim Hammer, who helped draft the legislation, said that rape kits are sometimes picked up from San Francisco General Hospital just once a week.

“So if the pickup day is Monday and a woman’s raped on Tuesday, six days go by before it’s picked up,” he said.

Janelle White, executive director of San Francisco Women Against Rape, said having kits processed quickly is a no-brainer, but she has questions about the logistics of the legislation, such as its impact on the Police Department’s workload.

But Alioto-Pier pointed to New York City, which she said had its arrest rate in rape cases almost double after it began testing every case.

It is not clear how much the legislation would cost The City.

“If you’re talking about people’s safety, it’s well worth the money,” Alioto-Pier said.

SFPD using grant funding to expand cold-case work

A year after San Francisco detectives were able to use DNA evidence to crack a 25-year-old homicide case — linking the death of a little girl in the Tenderloin with infamous serial killer Richard Ramirez — the Police Department is expanding its cold-case unit.

The SFPD will hire three part-time detectives to exclusively work on cold cases — homicide, rape or violent assault cases that have remained unsolved for years or decades.

The detectives will be tasked with combing through the evidence in those cases, and determining whether any might have traces of DNA that could not be tested at the time, but now may trace the perpetrator to someone whose DNA is known to the state.

Detectives will be funded with a $424,000 grant from the federal Department of Justice. As it stands, the Police Department employs two full-time cold-case detectives.

However, their work has been hindered by a very slow DNA-processing time — detectives find evidence to test, but The City’s lab has had a lengthy backlog, and current homicides and rapes often take priority over decades-old cases.

This bottleneck will not exist for the new detectives because the grant includes $150,000 in funding to hire an outside lab to conduct DNA testing, which will move the cases along in a more timely manner, said Bill Barnes, an aide to Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier.

The grant funds the three part-time positions for 18 months.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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