SFPD working to end rape kit backlog, but several thousand will never be tested 

click to enlarge Heather Marlowe, left, has brought attention to the Police Department’s backlog of rape cases. Marlowe is doing a one-woman show that tells the story of her 2010 rape. - ERICA MARQUEZ/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Erica Marquez/special to the s.f. examiner
  • Heather Marlowe, left, has brought attention to the Police Department’s backlog of rape cases. Marlowe is doing a one-woman show that tells the story of her 2010 rape.

At the end of each performance of Heather Marlowe's one-woman show about her 2010 rape "The Haze," she makes a request to the audience: Write to Police Chief Greg Suhr to change the way San Francisco police investigate and handle rape cases.

That's because The City -- which reviewed its evidence for untested rape kits in 2013 after pressure from Marlowe -- found it had several thousand kits that had never been sent to the lab, dating back more than a decade.

Now that may start to change, even if activists such as Marlowe say the Police Department is still not doing enough.

Since the beginning of the year, under a new protocol, all new rape kits have been sent for analysis, Suhr said during last week's Police Commission meeting.

And all untested rape kits dating back 10 years will be analyzed by mid-2015.

"We have stopped any future backlog," Suhr said. "We're good going forward from January."

In all, 753 kits await analysis. However, there are several thousand more that won't be tested because those cases exceed the 10-year statute of limitations for most violent rape.

The exact number was unavailable Tuesday.

Starting in January, all kits are collected by the department within 72 hours and sent straight to the crime lab. Within 14 days, each kit is assigned for analysis.

The Police Department used to have one supervisor and three criminalists for such lab work, but now there are three supervisors and 11 criminalists. The department also recently expanded its DNA analysis facility and outsourced analysis with two labs.

These efforts, said Suhr, were due to pressure from Marlowe.

"I appreciate it," she said of Suhr's praise, "but when they are not held accountable, that they let several thousand kits expire under the statute of limitations, that's unacceptable."

Marlowe was referring not to the backlogged rape kits the department is working to get analyzed, but rather the thousands of kits that are too old to have any impact in court.

She found that out in April when she received an email from the department promising to rectify the situation.

"While the aggregate number presented to be tested was 753 cases, identifying exactly which 753 out of several thousand had to be hand checked," the email said. "We have identified those cases and are awaiting identified funding to outsource the testing. Please be assured that the Police Department will screen and test those 753 cases as stated by ... Chief Suhr."

So far, the department said 60 cases from the backlog have been sent to labs.

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.

"The Haze" debuted Sept. 4 at The Costume Shop at the American Conservatory Theater and runs through Sept. 27.

Rape cases in San Francisco

135

Reported in first six months of 2014

133

Reported in the first half of 2013

17

Arrests made in first half of 2014

12

Arrests made in first half of 2013

12%

Clearance rate in first half of 2014

9%

Clearance rate in first half of 2013

18%

Clearance rate in 2012

40%

Average clearance rate for cities of 250,000 and more in 2012

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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