Austin City Council approves money to speed up sexual assault DNA processing

Local News

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council members approved funding expected to help with the future processing of rape kits that test positive for DNA.

The Houston Forensic Science Center and the University of North Texas Health Science Center will help run the positive tests through the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS.

“There’s very few laboratories that can do that service, so we wanted to be able to provide the bandwidth for that,” said Dr. Dana Kadavy with the Austin Police Department’s Forensic Science Bureau.

APD says with this additional help, the kits could be processed five times faster than they are now.

“We are trying to make sure we don’t experience the same situation that led to the DNA lab closing, and that led to this huge backlog,” said District 10 Councilmember Alison Alter.

In 2016, the backlog of untested rape kits ballooned to more than 4,000 cases. 

That’s when the Austin Police Department shuttered its crime lab, which closed for good after an audit found serious and longstanding problems with the lab’s testing.

Now, there are 1,300 kits from Austin that did test positive for DNA.

The DNA hasn’t been run through the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, to try and find a match.

Marina Garrett says she was sexually assaulted after a night out a few years ago and waited two years for her rape kit to even be tested.

“Just simply testing it is the first step. It’s not clearing the backlog,” she said. “When you say you’ve cleared the backlog, the public doesn’t know all these women are still waiting.”

In the next couple of weeks, APD will present to City Council a plan to address the backlog.

It’s a DOJ-funded initiative that will add three new vendors to process these kits through CODIS.

Dr. Kadavy says with this help, all of these cases could be added to the system by September of next year.

“At the current pace of only 30 reviews per month and you have 1300 reviews to do, that’s a long period of time,” said Dr. Kadavy. “We’re hoping to shorten that significantly.” 

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