The City looks to advance rape testing

The testing of DNA in rape cases could be sped up and perpetrators more speedily brought to justice after years of a problem-plagued process.

The Police Department would be required as part of its annual budget submission to report if it is meeting the goal of picking up rape kits within 72 hours of the reported incident, testing evidence within 14 days and testing other DNA evidence from the crime scene within a certain time frame, under proposed legislation.  

Timing can make all the difference.

“This legislation sets reasonable goals,” said Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier. “In New York City, where they started testing rape kits quickly in alignment with what we are suggesting here, they saw an increase in convictions of 70 percent.”

The money used to pay for DNA testing at the Police Department crime lab in sexual assault cases will be separated into its own fund and closely monitored. It will also be set up to receive donations. It would also be city policy to fund the work at a level that would ensure the goals can be met.

While The City struggles financially, facing another deficit year, Alioto-Pier said the requirements could be achieved without increasing spending.

The proposal comes as the crime lab had been recently rocked by scandals, including stolen drug evidence and significant testing backlogs.

Police Commissioner Jim Hammer, who worked on the proposal, said for years rape kits were not collected in a timely manner and victims were told  that evidence results could take a while.

“I almost fell off my chair when I heard that,” Hammer said, adding that the department has already begun to implement improvements.

“Rape kits are the most valuable piece of evidence often in these cases. We support this 72-hour collection,” said Assistant Chief Denise Schmitt, who oversees the crime lab. She said the department has begun to meet that goal already.

She said the biggest challenge of the proposal is meeting the goal when it comes to testing other DNA evidence at the crime scene.

“That will take a lot of effort and energy on the department’s part because therein we have to look at balancing all the types of cases, including homicide cases,” Schmitt said.

The Board of Supervisor Public Safety Committee approved the legislation Monday. The full board is expected to vote to approve it today.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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