SF police clear 10-year rape test kit backlog 

Activist Heather Marlowe has been credited by Police Chief Greg Suhr for pushing the department to end its rape kit backlog. - ERICA MARQUEZ/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Erica Marquez/special to the s.f. examiner
  • Activist Heather Marlowe has been credited by Police Chief Greg Suhr for pushing the department to end its rape kit backlog.

A decadelong backlog of rape kits -- used to test for sexual assault forensic evidence, including DNA -- at the Police Department is no more, according to the department.

"We are pleased to report that we have cleared our sexual assault kit backlog," a statement from the department said Thursday. "As of Dec. 3, 2014, all of the 753 cases needing to be tested have been sent to the vendor for testing thus cleaning the backlog of sexual assault kits at the SFPD."

Rape kits are used by law enforcement to collect biological material from a sexual assault victim following the crime for forensic analysis in order to match suspects.

After pressure from a rape victim whose kit was never tested, the department in 2013 conducted a review of all rape kits going back 10 years. The department found 753 cases which the crime lab had never analyzed.

But since the beginning of the year, under a new protocol, all new rape kits have been sent for analysis. Starting this past January, all new kits have been collected by the department within 72 hours and sent straight to the crime lab. Within 14 days, each kit is assigned for analysis.

Still, the successful end of the department's backlog must be coupled with another fact, one activist says: thousands of cases whose statute of limitation has run out will go untested.

Rape victim and activist Heather Marlowe told The San Francisco Examiner that she appreciated the department's effort to fix the problem, but is still unsatisfied.

"While I appreciate the progress, this also doesn't account for the other 1,135 unprocessed rape kits that sit untested at the SFPD because they have passed statute of limitations," she told The Examiner.

"I look forward to hearing the results of the tested rape kits and I hope -- given that San Francisco has one of the lowest clearance rates of rape in the country -- that our [district attorney] follows through and immediately prosecutes the rapists that turn up matches and/or hits in CODIS."

Marlowe was referring not to the backlogged rape kits the department has now sent to the lab to be analyzed, but rather the thousands of kits that are too old to have any impact in court.

Police Chief Greg Suhr has credited Marlowe, whose one-person show "Haze" recounts her rape, for pushing the department to end its backlog.

As of September, according to the Police Department, there were 204 reported rapes this year.

Police made arrests -- known as clearances -- in only 18 percent of rape cases in The City in 2012, according to the most recent data available from the FBI.

Rape crime in S.F.

Statistics related to rape cases and arrests (clearances) in The City.

-Reported rapes January to September 2014: 204

-Reported January to September 2013: 222

-Arrests made January to September 2014: 22

-Arrests made January to September 2013: 25

-Clearance rate in first half of 2014: 12 percent

-Clearance rate in first half of 2013: 9 percent

-Average clearance rate for cities of 250,000 and more in 2012: 40 percent

Source: Police Department

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Bio:
Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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