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Attorney General Lockyer Unveils $1.1 Million Project To Speed DNA Identification of Rapists in Southern California
(BEVERLY HILLS) B Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced the launch of a $1.1 million Fast Track Forensic Program, a pilot effort to process DNA evidence from sexual assault cases within five days, researching evidence collection techniques, and enhancing the use of forensics in acquaintance rape cases. Lockyer made the announcement at an annual benefit for the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center (RTC).
“The goal of this project is to quickly deliver vital information law enforcement officers need in the critical early stages of an investigation,” said Lockyer. “The sooner we identify a suspect, the sooner victims know their attackers are off the street, and our communities become safer. DNA identifications are concrete, resolute, and powerfully effective in convicting those guilty of sexual assault.”
Currently, medical personnel in sexual assault cases gather evidence such as bodily fluids, comb-outs from hair, and fingernail scrapings and place them in a rape kit. These materials are given to police and entered into an evidence vault before reaching a forensic lab for analysis by criminalists. This process is necessary for the proper handling of incriminating evidence, but it often takes as long as six months for the rape kit to be delivered to a forensic lab for DNA analysis.
Under the Fast Track Forensic Program an additional swab of evidence will be collected and sent directly to the Department of Justice DNA lab for prompt analysis. This quick treatment includes processing the additional swab within five days, completing a DNA profile of the suspect, and searching the suspect’s DNA profile against CalDNA, the Attorney General’s computerized DNA identification data bank where DNA profiles can be compared to the profiles of more than 575,000 identified felons. When crime scene evidence matches the DNA profile of an offender in the databank, the match is called a “hit.”
“Experts estimate that as few as 12% of rapes are reported to law enforcement authorities,” said Lockyer. “Given that, there were as many as 69,000 unreported rapes in California last year. While many factors go into a victim’s decision to report an assault, uncertainty about how quickly and how aggressively law enforcement will find the attacker should not be one of them. Rapists leave behind their DNA calling card and this program will let them know law enforcement is coming after them.”
“DNA evidence is a powerful tool for identifying sex offenders,” said Gail Abarbanel, RTC Founder and Director. “This program will enable us to solve rape cases much more quickly, which means rape victims will get closure that much sooner and we will be able to stop repeat offenders from committing more crimes. Ultimately, fast tracking forensic evidence in rape cases means fewer people will be raped.”
The $1.1 million Fast Track Forensic Program will provide $750,000 for the quick processing of evidence from an estimated 800 sexual assault cases that come through Department of Justice partner agencies, including RTC, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, and police departments for the cities of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Hawthorne, El Segundo, and Culver City. The remaining $350,000 will fund research for identifying the most effective methods of collecting sexual assault forensic evidence and enhancing the use of forensics in acquaintance rape cases, which account for up to 80% of all forcible rapes. Policymakers may rely on successful results of the Fast Track pilot to fund and expand the program in the future.
The Attorney General is paying for the Fast Track Forensic Program with remaining monies from a 2001 $2.9 million settlement with Nine West Group, which stemmed from an antitrust complaint that Nine West illegally agreed with shoe stores to fix the retail price of women's shoes for over a decade. The federal district court in New York that oversaw the Nine West case approved the use of the settlement funds for the Fast Track program.
The Attorney General’s DNA lab is widely regarded as the largest and best in the country. Prior to 1999, when Attorney General Lockyer assumed office, the lab produced an average of one "cold hit" per year. By making the expansion of the DNA database his top law enforcement priority, the lab now averages one hit every day. Although California law enforcement authorities received 9,345 reports of forcible rape in 2005, that number represents a 5% decline since 2000 and 27% decline since 1992. The success of the Attorney General’s DNA lab is regarded as a key reason why sexual assaults in California remain at historical low levels.