Berkeley Police Department responds to backlog in rape kit processing

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Evidence from a rape kit for the sexual assault of two Berkeley teens went untouched for six years before it was finally tested in 2014.

First reported by the San Francisco Chronicle on March 12, the tested evidence was linked to an Antioch, California, man with a lengthy criminal record who would later allegedly assault another woman in 2015. According to the article, while more than 1,900 rape test kits were untested in Alameda County in 2014, 500 kits have been sent for testing.

“We don’t know the circumstances from eight years ago which resulted in the kit not being tested,” said Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel in an email. “We take the matter very seriously and continue to work to understand what happened.”

Concerned about BPD’s backlog of SART kits — Sexual Assault Response Team kits, colloquially known as rape kits — city Mayor Tom Bates requested information from the police department about the situation last Tuesday.

BPD Capt. Andrew Greenwood emailed a response later that night, according to the mayor’s office director of communication, Charles Burress. Greenwood wrote that it is BPD’s “current practice to submit all SART kits for identification and upload into CODIS,” the FBI’s DNA database system.

According to Greenwood’s email, for the past several years, Berkeley police have sent all SART kits within the statute of limitations — more than 300 kits — for testing and uploaded results into CODIS. Kits that are older than 10 years and that are not prosecutable are also set to be processed and uploaded to CODIS, he added.

Historically, the decision to test a kit was reached after considering how much evidential value it would provide for the particular case.

“If a suspect was known, and, a confession made, DNA analysis was not necessary to the successful prosecution of the case,” Greenwood said in the email to Bates. “However, over the past several years … the testing and uploading of DNA into the system is seen as a valuable tool in order to potentially connect offenders to multiple cases.”

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley began pushing to clear police department backlogs in 2014, providing financial support — such as federal funding that she successfully lobbied for — to cover some of the costs associated with rape kit processing. Her office has been shipping kits to be tested at a Virginia lab for the past two years, according to the Chronicle, now sending 100 kits a month.

The initial kit processing takes place at an Alameda County hospital, costing between $800 and $1,500, according to Frankel. Evidence obtained there is then processed by a lab, with a turnaround time of four to six weeks, he said — but processing time depends on the complexity of the investigation.

If the test comes back with a match in the database, additional follow-up tests are conducted, Frankel said in an email, and can cost up to $5,000.

“I’m pleased to see the Police Department’s response and that they will make sure all these cases are promptly processed in the future,” Bates said in an emailed statement.

Bates said he has no future actions planned at this time but will take appropriate action if this issue rises again, Burress said in an email.

Contact Jennifer Wong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jenniferwong_dc.