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Push to test rape kits has slowed work at state crime labs in Utah, other states

First Published      Last Updated Mar 20 2017 12:39 pm


DNA testing » South Salt Lake-based Sorenson Forensics among labs that can test evidence kits at a lower price because of a narrower focus.

Utah isn't unique in its long wait for DNA results — other states are dealing with similar delays as police send in more evidence for testing and new laws mandate testing of all sexual assault kits.

In Idaho, the average turnaround time to test evidence is 352 days, according to laboratory system director Matthew Gamette. It's taking the lab there about 72 days to screen cases for potential DNA, he said, with an additional 280 days on average at the DNA lab.

Washington has an average turnaround time of 83 days — a period that has doubled since state legislators there passed a law in 2015 mandating that all rape kits be tested, according to George Johnston, a public information officer.




When a case involves an imminent threat, Johnston said, "we can complete the case in as little as two to three days. Something like this introduces late nights, multiple scientists and lots of overtime."

One South Salt Lake-based private lab, Sorenson Forensics, has dozens of contracts with public agencies across the nation working to clear their rape kit backlogs, according to technical sales director Cami Green. On average, Green said, it costs between $600 and $700 for Sorenson to test a single kit — and results can usually be delivered within 60 days, unless an agency has a particularly large number of kits that they need tested.

There are about 60 to 70 employees working in Sorenson's lab, which processes tens of thousands of kits a year. Right now, due to grant funding available to public agencies nationwide, the private lab's workload is about 80 to 90 percent backlogged sexual assault kits.

"We've already helped clear out entire state backlogs of sexual assault kits," Green said.

Crime Lab Director Jay Henry estimated at a recent legislative committee that state testing of a kit costs as much as $2,300.

That estimate is based on the overall expense of the case, Henry said in a later interview. Cases are more complex — and costly — if DNA results show mixed or partial profiles, if testing needs to be done quickly for public safety reasons or if other follow-up is needed, he said.

The price tag is more than twice the amount Henry estimated for an outside vendor to test a kit from Utah's backlog — the more than 2,700 kits that hadn't been sent to the lab by police. About half of those backlogged kits have now been tested, he said.

A vendor has a lower cost, he said, because it has a tighter focus: Identifying kit swabs likely to have the most DNA and getting a profile ready to send to CODIS, the Combined DNA Indexing System. That database contains profiles from offenders who have committed violent felonies.

In contrast, the state lab is assessing evidence, Henry explained, doing testing that may verify a victim's account, distinguish between multiple suspects or meet other needs for prosecutors. A private lab is not responsible for all of the tracking and data review, he added, and if it finds a suspect DNA profile, state crime labs must upload that information into the CODIS database.

 

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