Grant Will Help LA Clear DNA Testing Backlog

LOS ANGELES (CN) — The Los Angeles Police Department will use a grant from a national criminal justice research group to clear a backlog of over 500 investigations awaiting DNA testing results after the City Council voted Wednesday to accept the funds.

The $1 million grant comes from the National Institute of Justice, a crime research organization helping law enforcement implement science-based policing. The NIJ grant will support the LAPD’s efforts to clear a backlog of cases stalled by inefficient DNA testing operations.

A Dec. 6 letter from LA Police Chief Charlie Beck said the grant will allow the LAPD to clear “at least 522 additional DNA cases” from its backlog.

“The grant award will also increase laboratory capacity to meet existing and future demand for DNA screening and testing,” Beck said in the letter to the Board of Police Commissioners.

The grant program supports law enforcement departments with existing crime labs to “process, record, screen, and analyze forensic DNA and DNA database samples,” according to a report by Richard Llewellyn, the city’s administrative officer.

Funds will be used for salaries, travel for training workshops, equipment and other costs at LAPD’s Forensic Science Division and Serology/DNA Unit, according to the report. About $640,000 will go toward salaries and $267,000 toward equipment, the report said.

The grant will cover “support staff to process DNA cases on an overtime basis; travel and registration expenses for the continuing education of DNA analysts,” Llewellyn said.

Llewellyn’s report noted the city will not have to match the grant amount, which will cover the period of Jan. 1, 2018 through Dec. 31, 2019.

DNA testing entered the national spotlight Wednesday when Joseph James DeAngelo, thought to be the so-called Golden State Killer, was arrested on suspicion of committing 12 murders and 45 rapes throughout California in the 1970s and 80s.

His DNA sample linked him to as many as 175 crimes spanning two decades across the state.

At a press conference in Sacramento Wednesday, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, joined by other law enforcement officials, said the investigation gave the state a “strong incentive” to update the statewide DNA database, which he said has 2 million profiles.

Rackauckas said he worked with family members of DeAngelo’s victims to pass legislation that would require every felon’s DNA to be entered in the state’s database.

It’s not clear how many untested sexual assault kits are on backlogs across California. The Joyful Heart Foundation, which tracks rape kit backlogs across the U.S, estimates 13,000 kits remain untested in the state.

Kits contain swabs and other materials used to preserve evidence from a victim’s body after an attack, and can cost about $500 to $1,500 to test.

A bill from Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, would require more than 500 law enforcement, crime labs and other agencies in California to report to the United States Department of Justice by July 2019 how many untested kits they have.

Chiu’s bill would apply to all sexual assault kits collected on or after January 2018.

NIJ’s website says no industry-wide definition of what constitutes a backlog exists, but the organization defines it as a kit “that has not been completed within 30 days of receipt in the laboratory.” Backlogs are split into two categories: DNA evidence collected at crime scenes and DNA samples taken directly from arrestees or offenders, according to the NIJ.

An NIJ official did not respond by press time to further inquiry about DNA testing and clearing backlogs.

The current grant to the LAPD would not cover “untested evidence stored in” LAPD facilities, which is not considered in backlog counts.

NIJ is part of the Office of Justice Programs, a branch of the United States Department of Justice.

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