It’s time to test

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - OPINION -

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.

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