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States introduce bills to increase police accountability and ‘solve rates’ in rape cases

Across the country, reports are surfacing that often after a woman is raped, she gives a DNA sample to police — and then nothing happens. Separate revelations that thousands of “rape kits” have been sitting on shelves of police departments in major cities — as sexual assault crimes go unsolved — has led some state legislatures to introduce (or reintroduce) laws to correct the problem.

A bill was recently reintroduced in the California State Assembly that aims to hold law-enforcement departments accountable for rape kits that go untested, according to a news report from NBC San Diego. The legislation was authored three years ago by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-Pasadena) after 7,000 untested rape kits were discovered, according to California Watch, which noted that Portantino’s sexual assault bills were twice-vetoed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

If passed and signed this time around, Portantino’s bill would force counties with very low rates of solving rape crimes (under 12 percent) to test all of their rape kits, which generally consist of brown envelopes that comprise biological evidence — like DNA — from sexual assaults.

From NBC San Diego:

“The question is whether the investment of resources to do those analysis is worth the return you get,” Steve Guroff, a supervising criminalist with the San Diego county Sheriff’s Crime lab, explained.

He said before a kit can be analyzed, the lab has to receive a request from investigators. Many times, that doesn’t happen.

NBC reported an analysis of each rape kit takes about 80 to 90 days. The new California law would require law enforcement agencies statewide to count how many rape kits they receive and how many they test.

Down in Texas, the Houston Police Department has amassed more than 4,000 “unprocessed” rape kits, as The Texas Independent reported in May. This week, the Houston Chronicle reported on a case in which a 16-year-old’s rape was only solved 12 years after the fact, once her rape kit was finally tested. In the interim, her rapist assaulted another woman.

The Texas Legislature also recently passed a bill that will require law enforcement agencies to report if biological evidence in sexual assault cases is not tested within 90 days of submission.

In Detroit, more than 10,000 unprocessed rape kits — some dating back to the 1980s — were discovered in a police property storage facility in 2009, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Both Houston and Detroit are participating in a National Institute for Justice-funded study that aims to provide strategies for improving the prosecution of sexual assaults. The Detroit Free Press recently reported that a psychology professor and sexual assault researcher from Michigan State University is now working with police and prosecutors as part of the grant.

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