Update: DA loses $2M in grant funds for rape kit backlog when SFPD won't sign on

San Francisco law enforcement officials have lost a chance at $2 million to clear a rape kit backlog, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

Two grant opportunities intended to help end the backlog of rape kits in San Francisco’s crime lab were lost because the Police Department declined to participate, saying the funding was too restrictive.

The grants were each worth $2 million. The first grant deadline was May 7, and the second was June 1. The funding would have gone to clearing the backlog for rape kits collected before 2003. But the District Attorney’s Office, which was seeking the funding, could not apply for either because the Police Department’s participation was a requirement.

“If we got either grant, it would have been $2 million, basically all of which would have gone to the Police Department,” said Max Szabo, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office. “Since the Police Department runs the crime lab, and the rape kits are in their custody, their participation was a necessity.”

But Police Chief Greg Suhr told The San Francisco Examiner that’s not the whole story.

When the District Attorney’s Office asked the department if it wanted to participate, Suhr asked the crime lab if such a grant would help or hinder their efforts to clear untested rape kits. Crime lab personnel told him the grant wouldn’t help and having the District Attorney’s Office administer any part of the process would be cumbersome.

The money would have gone to pay for testing of more than 1,000 pre-2003 rape kits that have not been tested. Most of those cases fall outside the state’s 10-year statute of limitations for rape.

While the statute of limitations for most kits older than 10 years bars prosecution, any DNA evidence from old kits could help point law enforcement to unknown serial rapists and other crimes. Such DNA can also be used in current prosecutions as evidence of prior sexual assault.

Plus the DNA evidence could be used to notify rape victims of the identity of their assailant.

Some rape cases have no statute of limitations, such as especially heinous rapes that would result in life in prison.

The first grant was from the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative. The second was from the New York City District Attorney’s Office Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Elimination Program.

The grants would have saved The City thousands in testing costs since a pre-negotiated, reduced cost with DNA testing centers is part of the grant program, according to Szabo. Those centers, which already have a contract with the department, would have charged $500 to $650 per kit, which would have meant up to $1,000 in savings per kit.

Up to $1 million of the grant funds could have gone directly to testing kits, said Szabo.

As of Dec. 3, all of the 753 cases that fall within the statute of limitations, which the Police Department identified as part of its 10-year-old backlog, had been sent for testing.

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