A local assemblyman has introduced a bill that would set time limits for crime labs to process rape kits that are used to present physical evidence in the prosecution of sexual assault offenders.
The bill, AB 322, was introduced Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, and would mandate that rape kits used for DNA testing be sent by law enforcement agencies to a lab within 30 days, and be processed within six months. Agencies would also have to send regular reports on the number of unprocessed rape kits to the Department of Justice that would be also be available to the public.
Portantino had a similar bill vetoed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year. In his veto statement, Schwarzenegger wrote that agencies lack the resources to comply with the law.
With Jerry Brown in office, Portantino said he is expecting a different result this year.
"The former governor just saw the world a little differently than most reasonable people," Portantino said. "If you've got physical evidence to prove a crime and then don't process it, it's just stupid."
The legislation was inspired by a 2009 Human Rights Watch study that showed that there are more than 10,000 unprocessed rape kits in Los Angeles County.
The same report also states that Los Angeles County makes arrests in only 28 percent of all reported rapes. In New York City, by comparison, the organization notes that every rape kit is tested and the arrest rate is around 70 percent.
The legislation is supported by multiple crime victims groups, including the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
Phillip Ung, a spokesman for the group, said he sympathizes with law enforcement agencies who say they would struggle to comply with the law.
"We do expect law enforcement and especially the folks in forensics to be against this," Ung said. "
However, he said, it's very important that the public know how many kits are going untested.
"Right now we're just working on blind faith of what the number is," Ung said. "All we know is there is a backlog."
Dean Gialamas, the director of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Scientific Services Bureau, which processes the kits for sheriff's areas like unincorporated Monrovia, said the department is officially neutral on the legislation.
He said that the department would be able to comply with the legislation if it is passed. Since 2008, which was when Human Rights Watch began to report on untested kits at the Los Angeles Police Department, department officials have prioritized getting through their own backlog of rape kits, Gialamas said.
The department announced in October that it had almost 5,000 unprocessed kits that they were sending to private labs to get tested, with the goal to be finished by June.
Gialamas said the department is on target to complete the task on time, and the department also already makes regular reports on the number of untested kits to the County Board of Supervisors.
At the same time, many other labs in the state would struggle to get through their own backlogs without additional assistance from the state if the legislation were to pass, he said.
Advocates for the bill have also acknowledged this and hope to come up with a solution.
Ung said that agencies would likely need to contract out work to private labs to get the work done, but noted that there are state funds set aside to pay for additional testing for a state proposition passed in 2004. He said he is hoping state officials will take the lead in helping agencies get new programs started.
He said that proponents of the bills don't blame the agencies for not being able to get the job done currently.
"They don't want to be seen as bad guys for not testing enough, but we don't think they are bad guys," Ung said. "It is true there isn't enough staffing to get this done right now."