For the first time in its history, the Houston Police Department doesn’t have a backlog of rape kits that haven’t been tested.
The backlog, which at one point totalled 6,600 untested rape kits, was eliminated by sending the kits to outside labs, Chief Charles McClelland said.
“There is no backlog regarding DNA (evidence) and sexual assault kits,” said McClelland, adding that lab results are beginning to arrive back at the police department and criminal investigations will be updated if usable evidence is found.
The police department used federal grants and city funding to pay for processing the rape kits, in addition to testing evidence in other pending cases for possible DNA, the chief said. Rape kits are the informal term for biological samples as well as physical evidence gathered from victims of sexual assaults, which are later processed to see if they match the DNA of a suspect.
Police officials say they have the laboratory capacity, both inside HPD and in outside labs, to keep a backlog from developing.
It was back in March that Council unanimously approved a plan by Mayor Parker to allocate funds to clear the backlog by sending all of the kits to two outside labs. I presume what this story really means is that as of now all of the kits have been physically transferred from HPD’s possession to those two labs. The fact that HPD is now able to process all of the DNA evidence it collects in a timely manner so that no new backlogs develop is at least as big a deal as the clearing of the backlog that had existed for so many years.
Past critics of the department’s forensic services, including the city’s largest police union, say they expect the crime lab not to ever lag behind again.
“Under this chief and mayor, it better be sustainable because they made it very clear to the (assistant) chief who took over that position that it is not going to happen again,” said Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officer’s Union. “I’m very confident, under this administration, that there won’t be a backlog. That is something that has to happen – you can’t get behind.”
Assistant Chief Matt Slinkard said that HPD investigators receive about 1,000 new sexual assault cases each year, and these cases are also being sent to a pair of outside laboratories. Other criminal cases needing forensic testing are being processed in the HPD lab.
This is a big deal and an accomplishment of which Mayor Parker should be justifiably proud. It will make the transition to the new crime lab structure much smoother, and it means that the new crime lab can be more aggressive about pursuing and analyzing DNA evidence in property crime cases. All in all, a very good day for the city.