SOUTHERN NEVADA DOES NOT HAVE ENOUGH FORENSIC LAB CAPACITY TO TEST RAPE KITS


1,357 rapes/sexual assaults were reported in Nevada in 2014. In 2015, our state was the 7th worst in the nation in rape per 100,000 population. Per the Department of Justice “Criminal Victimization, 2014” report, a staggering 66 percent were unreported nationwide. The Criminal Victimization report states:

“Victims may not report the victimization for a variety of reasons, including fear of reprisal or getting the offender in trouble, believing that police would not or could not do anything to help, and believing the crime to be a personal issue…”

If the national average for unreported rape is applied to Nevada UCR numbers, an estimated 2,639 additional unknown persons may have been a victim of rape or sexual assault in Nevada in 2014. That brings the total rapes to approximately 3990.

Approximately 319, or 23.61% of the [reported] Nevada 2014 cases, were cleared. The national average for clearing rape cases in 2014 was 38.5% (a 61% higher clearance rate than Nevada).

While thousands of rape kits sit in evidence vaults awaiting forensic laboratory analysis, it is evident that our forensic evidence analysis capacity needs immediate attention, and must be increased.

If we multiply the number of actual rape cases (including those unreported) that may have yielded physical forensic evidence, it is staggering to imagine the amount of additional DNA evidence that may be backlogged, waiting for analysis that may never occur.


DNA Evidence — Thousands of untested rape kits stored in evidence vaults

While thousands of untested rape kits remain stored in evidence vaults, the perpetrators remain free to commit more crimes. Southern Nevada's capacity to conduct forensic testing and analysis of DNA evidence is extremely limited.

Some of the approximately 6,300 untested rape kits (as of December 2015) in Southern Nevada reportedly go back more than 15 years.

Update: After receiving approximately $3.4 million in grants, coordinated by the NV Attorney General's Office, those backlogged kits are expected to be tested (by July 2018) through outsourcing to private labs out of state. However, LVMPD's DNA lab reportedly receives 400 to 500 new kits for every 100 they can test annually. At that rate, the rape kits received will create a new backlog of 600 to 800 by mid 2018.

A second DNA lab in Southern Nevada; adequately equipped, staffed, and managed; will substantially decrease the backlogs and help keep up with the reported crimes.

Photo: Example of a Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit

DNA Evidence Analysis Capabilities/Capacity

Forensic science has provided us with great crime fighting and crime solving/prevention tools, yet, we are not taking full advantage of the technologies available to us. When crimes are solved through the application of forensic science, law enforcement officers significantly reduce the amount of persons and other resources needed to investigate those crimes. Many persons who would have otherwise become victims of crime, do not. The number of victims whose lives may have been lost during the commission of a crime, are also reduced. The subsequent prevent of crimes when subjects have been identified lowers the victimization rates, and again allows law enforcement officers to shift their resources to where they are needed most. DNA analysis takes highly skilled forensic scientists and technicians. There obviously are costs involved in building construction, purchase and maintenance of related equipment and materials, and the professionals who do this work receive salaries. The review of information provided in this site at Costs of Crime and Crime Statistics serve as reminders of the benefits that can be provided through the appropriate application of forensic science in our communities.

One of the most widely publicized types of potential DNA evidence in backlog in southern Nevada is rape kits. Some of the approximately 6,300 untested kits (as of December 2015) in Southern Nevada reportedly go back more than 15 years. It is obvious that criminals who committed the terrible crime of rape 5, 10, or 15 years ago had opportunities to rape again and again. There are arguably hundreds, if not thousands, of rape victims who would not have become victims of a horrible crime had our communities been made aware of the backlog, and steps taken to develop the ability to stop many of the crimes through DNA analysis.

It is no wonder that, as reported by the Department of Justice [and mentioned earlier], “victims may not report the victimization for a variety of reasons, including fear of reprisal or getting the offender in trouble, believing that police would not or could not do anything to help…”

We have to do something about this chronic problem. We have to do something now and the solution must be sustainable over a long period of time.

Southern Nevada does not have the necessary forensic laboratory resources to catch up and keep up with all of the potential DNA evidence. The only thing that provides some relief, is the grant funding. However, based on past experience, grant funding is not a panacea to gain control over DNA evidence backlogs and to also develop and maintain a capability to analyze evidence in a timely basis.

Only one DNA lab in southern Nevada

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) Forensic Laboratory is the only publicly operated forensic (crime) lab in southern Nevada with the capability to conduct DNA evidence analysis. The only other publicly operated forensic laboratory in the region, operated by the City of Henderson, does not have the space, equipment, nor personnel to conduct DNA analysis. That, and similar issues, are major factors that help demonstrate the critical need to fund and build a second full-service forensic laboratory in southern Nevada.

LVMPD's lab has worked for many years with significant backlogs, and continues their efforts to catch up, and eventually keep up. At best, that possibility is in the distant future under the current situation. The lab has done everything possible within their current abilities, and has received numerous federal and other grants over many years to help keep the backlog of all DNA evidence analysis as low as possible.

Per the Associated Press, as reported in the Las Vegas Sun in May 2015, the LVMPD Forensic Lab had a backlog of approximately 5,613 rape kits, and 739 additional untested rape kits were in evidence vaults of other law enforcement agencies in Southern Nevada. LVMPD recently received approval of grants totaling $3.4 million to reduce the rape kit DNA backlog. In December 2015, LVMPD's lab director Kimberly Murga reported that if they receive full funding to test all backlogged rape kits, they could get each of them tested by 2020. LVMPD announced that they would be outsourcing the majority of the rape kits to a lab in Texas. Murga was also reported as saying that LVMPD's lab has the capacity to test 100 rape kits per year.

A Las Vegas Review-Journal, Henderson View article, reported that the City of Henderson received “..more than $77,000 to help its police department clear a backlog of 265 sexual assault kits.” Per Monica Moazez, of the Nevada attorney general’s office, as quoted in the article, DNA analysis for the rape kits will reportedly cost $650 each at a lab in Virginia, due to a discount for the bulk testing. At the stated cost, the funds will pay for approximately 118 of the 265 Henderson kits.

While the receipt of rape kit/DNA backlog reduction funds throughout the state is encouraging news, much more DNA evidence analysis capacity is in critical need for Southern Nevada. This will make a difference, including 45% of the Henderson kits mentioned, but in too many cases it comes far too late to prevent crimes that it would otherwise have done if not for the backlogs. We must increase DNA analysis capacity throughout southern Nevada, so we can be proactive in preventing these crimes.

Per Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, as reported by the LVRJ, the announcement is a "...good new page to turn, and that resources and protocols will have to be re-examined for future cases." He was also quoted as saying: "We have to figure out in the long run if we have the capacity to eventually test these in state and keep up... All these new cases flooding into the system, it’s going to cost money. It’s going to need, if not new resources, prioritization of existing resources" he added.

Recent Forensic DNA Lab Success in Ohio, July 2016 — "Ohio sexual assault kit tests provided subject profiles in 4,055 of 11,257 previously untested rape kits

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine reported that as of July 1, 2016, a total of 4,055 matches to DNA profiles already in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database have been obtained from 11,257 previously untested rape kits. That is a 36% success rate in the backlog rape kit testing program! "Attorney General DeWine joined Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty last week to announce the indictment of the 500th defendant, Basim Barnes, who was charged with raping two women, one in 2007 and the other in 2009."

Source: http://www.wkyc.com/news/local/ohio-sexual-assault-kit-tests-hits-top-4000/265220370 Retrieved 7-13-16

National Institute of Justice published a special report on the value of testing Sexual Assault Kits

In June 2016, the National Institute of Justice published a special report: "Down the Road: Testing Evidence in Sexual Assaults". The report based on research conducted in Houston, TX and Detroit, MI, demonstrates the value of conducting DNA analysis on sexual assault-related evidence, for example: “... testing sexual assault evidence may lead to the identification of a suspect, evidence of serial rapes, or the exoneration of a wrongly convicted person…” The report highlights the other steps that are taken for rapes including additional workloads that involve law enforcement investigators and others.
One example the report provides regarding the value of DNA analysis of Sexual Assault Kits (SAK) in the Detroit study reads: “Of the kits tested, 49 percent yielded DNA profiles that could be uploaded to CODIS, the national DNA database. Of the 785 profiles uploaded, 455 produced “hits.” In other words, DNA from 28 percent of the kits matched a DNA profile that was in the database. Of these, 127 serial assaults were identified — that is, there was a DNA match across two or more SAKs.”

DNA

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms. Nearly every cell in a person’s body has the same DNA (U.S. DHHS).

DNA is unique to a specific person with an exception for identical twins. However, scientists have been developing the ability to locate subtle, rare differences that may exist between some sets of identical twins. For now, and at least the near future, we’ll have to continue using other methods to determine which one is which.

DNA can be instrumental in nearly every type of crime where direct or indirect physical contact and many instances of transfer of substances/material is involved. From a smeared handprint on a sliding glass door, sweat on an article of clothing, physical contact with a cash register drawer, blood shed by a victim or suspect at a crime scene, biological fluid from a suspect during a rape, biological fluid on a weapon, and many other circumstances.

Application of forensic science; in regard to DNA, fingerprints, and a combination of both; is the solution to many crimes, the key to prevent numerous others, and a means to save innocent lives.

Forensic laboratories throughout the U.S., and particularly in Southern Nevada, do not have the capacity to use DNA evidence effectively. We have a critical shortage in laboratory analysis capacity that would otherwise help solve and prevent crimes in our communities.


Photo: DNA double helix, www.hdimagesnew.com

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