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06-23-09, 01:52 AM #1
Sheriff's Dept suspends DNA testing
L.A. County Sheriff's Department suspends DNA testing in sexual assault cases - Los Angeles Times
L.A. County Sheriff's Department suspends DNA testing in sexual assault cases
For now, there are no funds to pay for analysis at private crime labs, according to a report by Sheriff Lee Baca. Federal grants expected next month may improve the situation.
By Joel Rubin and Molly Hennessy-Fiske
June 23, 2009
Out of cash and understaffed, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has suspended its faltering effort to analyze DNA evidence from thousands of rape and sexual assault cases.
The department halted shipments of the genetic evidence to private crime laboratories at the end of May after funds allotted for the testing ran dry, according to a report submitted by Sheriff Lee Baca to the county Board of Supervisors late last week.
L.A. County sheriff's officials acknowledge that genetic evidence in 5,635 rape cases may be untested
Sheriff's Department officials said they expected to receive federal grant money next month, and more funds in the fall, that would allow them to continue testing for four or five months. After that, however, the department will have to rely on an uncertain stream of state funding, officials said.
The haphazard approach underscores the trouble Baca has had delivering on a promise he made in November to clear the decades-old backlog of evidence from roughly 4,600 cases and to keep pace with testing evidence from all new cases. Late Monday afternoon, a spokesman for Baca said that Marshall University in West Virginia had agreed to do a small amount of testing for free each month, adding to the sense that the Sheriff's Department is scrambling to find help anywhere it can.
To date, the department has sent evidence from 676 cases to outside labs, according to the report. About three-quarters of those were not dispatched until recently and have not yet been processed, department officials said. Moreover, though testing has produced usable results in 98 cases so far, the genetic profiles of the suspected attackers in only six of the cases have been compared with state databases. The rest are awaiting a final review by the Sheriff Department's in-house laboratory. In one of those six cases, the alleged attacker was identified, raising the likelihood that the answers to several other rapes and sex crimes lie in the department's untested evidence.
"The lab must be given the resources it needs to do this work," said Gail Abarbanel, director of the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center. "There are rapists walking the streets of Los Angeles, who, if they tested evidence that is sitting on shelves, could be taken off."
Because of funding problems, the amount of untested evidence has actually grown. Sheriff's officials said the department's lab cannot keep up with the more than 330 new sexual assault cases and the preparation and review work that must be completed on outsourced evidence kits.
Victims of sexual assault are taken to medical specialists who swab their bodies for sperm, saliva or other genetic samples left by the attacker. The evidence, packaged in so-called sexual assault kits, hold potentially crucial information. DNA analysts can extract a person's genetic code from the collected samples and compare it with the DNA profiles of known felons in state and federal databases. When the DNA sample matches a DNA profile in the database, it can offer prosecutors nearly irrefutable proof of the person's guilt. The evidence can also be used to confirm that someone has not falsely confessed to a crime or to link someone to other unsolved cases.
Since the advent of DNA testing, however, the Sheriff's Department -- as well as the Los Angeles Police Department and other agencies -- had followed a policy of testing evidence only when such a request was made by detectives working the case. Late last year, under pressure from watchdog groups and politicians, Baca and LAPD Chief William J. Bratton changed course, saying they would test all the evidence kits. Inventories of the backlogged cases in both departments revealed that evidence had gone untested in hundreds of cases in which detectives had no other leads and could have possibly benefited from the DNA analysis. Dozens of those cases were found to be too old for prosecutors to pursue under the statute of limitations.
LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck said his department is continuing to outsource evidence from old cases at a rate of about 115 a week and has the funding to continue doing so for most of the next fiscal year.
But L.A. County is hardly alone in its predicament. A state legislative budget committee recently recommended that funding for the California Department of Justice lab be slashed by $20 million next fiscal year -- a move that, if approved by lawmakers, would force the lab to stop providing free DNA testing to 47 of the state's 53 county governments.
In the months after Baca's November announcement, sheriff's officials indicated repeatedly that the department did not have sufficient resources to make good on the promise. Early hopes that the county would provide an infusion of cash for testing were quickly dashed as the economic recession worsened, said Cmdr. Earl Shields of the department's Technical Services Division. The full extent of the funding shortfall became clear last month when Baca told county officials his department needed about $4.5 million to outsource old sexual assault kits to private labs and a similar amount to add 30 more people to the Sheriff's Department lab. With those resources, the DNA backlog could be cleared in 18 months, Shields said.
Facing nearly $500 million in budget cuts, county officials made it clear that there was no money to be had.
"That was never realistic," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. "He's got a $2-billion budget. If this is his No. 1 priority, he should be able to find resources within his own department."
Sheila Williams, an analyst with the county's chief executive office, added that sheriff's officials never alerted anyone in her office that there could come a time when funds would be gone and testing suspended.'Political Correctness is a doctrine fostered by a
delusional, illogical liberal minority, and rabidly
promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which
holds forth the proposition that it is entirely
possible to pick up a turd by the clean end!'
“A fear of weapons is a sign of retarded sexual and emotional maturity.” Sigmund Freud
06-23-09, 02:02 AM #2
Every time I read about this it's a gut punch. What's the situation like around the rest of the country?
Originally Posted by Herzen
06-23-09, 04:27 AM #3
Dallas is testing DNA even for old closed cases, and has uncovered several disturbing cases where the wrong person was convicted despite other exonerating evidence which the jury ignored, and even that the prosecutor did not disclose.
I read once where DNA has freed more innocent people than it has convicted - That's reason enough in my mind to require DNA testing where biological evidence exists, before a case even goes to the Grand Jury.
A person can certainly be guilty of rape or murder even if DNA evidence is negative, but at least it should be weighed against other evidence.
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06-23-09, 12:25 PM #4
I'm in LA County. The merger between my department and LASD would save the County $40M, but the Board just keeps dragging their feet. The County (my employer) has never been fiscally responsible. Sheriff Baca ALWAYS goes tot he media with stories like this to try to force the Board to give his department more money with public outcry. It's all just political posturing. Yeah, the budget is getting worse. We (local govt) is a year behind the economy. So it WILL get worse. These politicians must get their crap straight, stop public political posturing, and work together for a budget....something the PRK (People's Republic of Kalifornia) will never be able to do.
06-23-09, 12:29 PM #5
A 2 Billion dollar budget? What I wouldn't give for those kinds of resources.
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