It’s time to test
California’s police departments have thousands of untested rape kits on their shelves, prime evidence that could produce arrests in sex-assault cases. But the numbers aren’t known nor does the law require that the kits be examined for DNA traces that can yield results.
It’s a frustrating situation where facts aren’t gathered and a proven crime tool isn’t utilized. Two state lawmakers are pushing a pair of measures to improve a sorry situation. It’s up to the legislative leaders to push the bills they’ve killed in the past.
San Francisco Assemblyman David Chiu, a Democrat, wants an audit on untested kits. Estimates vary from 14,000 to 20,000 kits in police hands. The right number could lead to a budget figure needed to get at the backlog.
State Sen. Connie Leyva, a San Bernardino County Democrat, wants to compel law enforcement to test all kits, shifting the guiding language from “should” to “shall” when it comes to sampling the evidence. Police would have 20 days to submit the kits, which must be tested within 120 days. The two bills, AB3118 and SB1449, would take aim at serial rapists responsible for the bulk of sex assaults.
Past efforts to get at the backlog have stalled over budget worries and police doubts about the need. But public awareness is now kindled in an era of #MeToo sex-abuse complaints along with the DNA-aided arrest of the suspected Golden State Killer, blamed for some 45 rapes as well. Also, a Chronicle report found that untested rape kits from East Bay assaults were linked to a suspect later charged with murder, a crime possibly prevented by timely testing.
On May 25, the Legislature can show its resolve. That’s when bills with budget impacts are either advanced or killed by appropriation panels. In the past few years, untested rape kits were ignored. That can’t happen again.