Closed DNA Lab Unfunded, rape kits untested, PS1.04 & PS1.07 must passWritten by Kelly White
UPDATE: On Sept. 12, Chief Acevedo announced that he would find funding within the existing fiscal year’s budget to fund the analysis of the current backlogged sexual assault related cases—and any incurred during the closure of APD’s DNA lab—while the lab remains closed.
On Sept. 14, the Austin City Council passed the 2017 budget, which included $1.4 million in the general fund intended to pay for seven additional analysts and one additional supervisor, per PS1.04.
This is a huge win for survivors of sexual assault and for the advocates and citizens who fought to get these funds in the budget. Your advocacy and your support for The SAFE Alliance is a critical part of this victory. You can help us continue to fight for justice for survivors of sexual assault by making a gift today.
A problem that made itself apparent after a state audit of the Austin Police Department’s handling of rape kits has gone from bad to abysmal. With each passing day, it only gets worse.
“Those people with DNA sitting in shelved rape kits should be off the streets, not out racking up new charges.”
APD shut down the department’s DNA lab in June after the Texas Forensic Science Commission determined the staff processing evidence lacked proper training.
SAFE Vice President of Community Services Coni Stogner said the understaffed police DNA lab took between 12 and 18 months to process evidence prior to the lab being shuttered.
With the lab’s closure, a backlog of 3,000 rape kits were shelved and an additional 1,400 new DNA samples – 700 of which are sexual assault related – are waiting to be tested. At the same time, new sexual assaults continue to be reported on a daily basis. On Wednesday, Commander Wright, who oversees the lab for APD, said it could take as long as four years to analyze the backlog and start processing DNA samples in a timely manner if recently proposed budget amendments are passed by the Austin City Council. Delays could be far worse if council members don’t pass amendments proposed by Council Member Casar, PS1.04 and PS1.07.
- 04 would provide $1.4 million for seven additional full-time DNA analysts and one supervisor for the APD crime lab, as was recommended by the state audit.
- 07 would allocate $500,000 for outsourcing the analysis of 500 rape kits.
“…it could take as long as four years to analyze the backlog and start processing DNA samples in a timely manner if recently proposed budget amendments are passed by the Austin City Council. “
Commander Wright said the police department expects to see a 50-percent return rate on crimes committed after backlog rape kits are tested, meaning half of the samples will match a perpetrator who has been linked to another crime since the rape kit was collected.
Those people with DNA sitting in shelved rape kits should be off the streets, not out racking up new charges.
To further understand the urgency of this crisis, consider this: At the SAFE Alliance’s Eloise House, where sexual assault survivors are given free Sexual Assault Forensic Exams (SAFEs), administrators see between 50 and 60 survivors per month, sometimes more. Since prevalence rates tell us only about 9% of survivors report being assaulted to the authorities, the actual number of victims is much higher.
We need to act as soon as possible to ensure these amendments remain on the list of items for consideration during the budget process and to ensure they garner the maximum possible level of support from council members. Please contact your council member immediately.
We at SAFE believe these measures are critical to providing justice to survivors of sexual assault and to achieving our vision of a just, safe community free from violence and abuse. SAFE operates the Forensic Nursing and Advocacy Program, which provides rape exams for sexual assault survivors in Central Texas. We see firsthand the impact of excessive delays in processing these kits, and that’s why we strongly believe the council should pass these amendments to the city budget.