Houston Police Work to Clear Rape Kit Backlog

A $4.4 million effort to test rape kits dating back to 1987 by the city of Houston has produced more than 1,000 DNA databank matches and charges against 19 people.

The Houston Chronicle reported that 10 of those suspects have been arrested for the first time. Police officials gathered with politicians at City Hall on Monday to celebrate a task force of more than 40 officers who have worked to clear the nearly three-decade old backlog.

The council made the multimillion dollar allocation in 2013 to test DNA samples from nearly 9,800 cases, including 6,600 rape kits. Authorities said the backlog is nearly cleared.

Houston Assistant Chief Matt Slinkard said the reviews confirmed police arrested the right person in 58 sexual assault cases. Police have not released details about the 19 suspects facing new charges. One suspect is at large.

DNA testing at the department's crime lab was temporarily suspended in 2002 after an independent audit revealed shoddy forensic work including unqualified personnel, lax protocols and inadequate facilities that included a roof that leaked rainwater onto evidence. The lab resumed operation in 2007.

Mayor Annise Parker said forensic work in Houston was "sometimes an afterthought," but praised the department for working through the backlog.

"Now, 6,600 kits later, we're in a position where we will never allow that to happen again," Parker said.

Clete Snell, a criminologist at University of Houston-Downtown, said the number of DNA matches underscores the need for fully functional crime labs.

"This goes to show the importance of testing those kits as they're coming in. There should never have been a backlog," Snell said. "Having to wait this long a period of time is an injustice to the victims in these cases."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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