The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, under pressure from county supervisors and watchdog groups to account for its handling of DNA evidence from sexual assault cases, acknowledged Wednesday it did not know whether genetic evidence from more than 5,600 rape cases had been examined. In response to an inquiry by the Board of Supervisors, sheriff’s officials tallied 5,635 sexual assault evidence kits — semen and other DNA samples collected by authorities from victims — sitting in freezer storage facilities, Commander Earl Shields said. The department must now manually compare that inventory with records from its crime laboratory to determine which kits remain unexamined, Shields said.
Under a new policy, all sexual assault kits gathered in the future will be tested — a departure from a long-running practice in which the sheriff’s crime lab analyzed evidence only after detectives handling a case requested it. Shields also said the department would analyze evidence from all kits currently in storage that are found to be untested, although he warned that such an effort would be costly. Unexamined kits hold potentially crucial information. DNA analysts can extract a person’s genetic code from the collected samples and compare it to those of known felons that are kept in federal and state databases.