THE BLOG
03/24/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Los Angeles DNA Testing Debate Should Focus on Getting the Job Done

Modern science has made it possible to bring justice for so many more victims of rape and other violent crimes. Not so long ago, Los Angeles - City & County - had the largest backlog of untested rape kit evidence in the country, amounting to about 12,000 untested kits sitting on shelves of LAPD and LASD freezers. Last year, through the direction of now-Inspector General Laura Chick, the leadership of Human Rights Watch, and the action of many community organizations, Los Angeles City Council voted to make the funding for eradicating the backlog a priority. Advocates for sexual violence victims celebrated this major step toward seeing justice. The new City Controller Wendy Greuel maintained her focus on this issue to ensure that Los Angeles stayed on the path to progress.

So naturally City of Los Angeles leaders were equally as outraged as victims' advocates to discover last week that despite having made funding available and their intentions clear, a bureaucratic city personnel review panel had denied new DNA analysts hires for the Los Angeles Police Department.

The bad news is that two months of hiring and training were lost.

The good news, however, is that the City of Los Angeles can still make meet its pledge to eliminate its evidence kit backlog by this June if it takes smart, aggressive action to keep DNA testing on track.

Even as it faces massive budget shortfalls, Mayor Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles City Council have made it a priority to slog through its evidence kit backlog. They earmarked funding for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to hire more criminal analysts beginning in January 2010. And understanding the need to speed this process both for the benefit of the victims' healing process and the legal statute of limitations, they also set aside funds to contract with private laboratories to more quickly move the process along.

Today there are fewer than 1,300 evidence backlogged kits, showing some decent progress considering that number was more than 7,000 just over one year ago.

To mitigate the two month's of time lost, City Council President Eric Garcetti proposed re-allocating $400,000 of the funding set aside for new hires to immediately extend the use of private labs, which have already completed the testing for which they were contracted by the city this year. This is particularly prudent because the LAPD can only train a limited number of new analysts before the end of the fiscal year, and given the tough budget times these funds would run a high risk of being swept away for other uses. On top of that, it takes three to six months for the LAPD to test, hire, and train each analyst, and that means evidence kits languishing even longer in storage.

Of course, outsourcing alone cannot be the permanent answer. Los Angeles needs more in-house criminal analysts not only to ensure that no similar backlog ever accumulates, but because even when a kit is tested by a private lab, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) requires that the LAPD retest it and upload the results into a national DNA database. Garcetti has also proposed immediately hiring the maximum number of analysts that the LAPD can handle in one training class so that they can be ready to verify the outsourced kits as soon as possible.

But right now, there are more than 1,000 evidence kits ready to be tested, and that means 1,000 victims still waiting for justice to be served on their perpetrator.

The goal must be addressing these kits and the victims of unsolved crimes that they represent. And that requires a strategic approach that includes both permanent hiring for the long-term, and increased outsourcing so that the testing of backlog kits does not grind to a halt and so that victims can see justice.