With rape kit backlog cleared, APD says it’s now up to speed

Austin

It’s been nearly two years since the Austin Police Department shut down its DNA lab, but the headache for the department is almost over. 

The department has sent the last batch to a DPS-APD partnership lab.

These latest cases will be returned to detectives in September according to APD. DPS says there are 310 rape kits at several stages in the process of testing at the DPS Capitol Area Lab. That’s where DPS manages and oversees DNA operations, focusing on cases coming through APD.

“Our kits are caught up and we are submitting the kits from current assaults as they come into the department,” said Austin Chief of Police Brian Manley.

APD was helped by a $200,000 federal grant. In the meantime, APD contracted out to other labs, hired five more staff members to move these rape cases along and partnered with DPS to operate a Capitol-area DNA lab. 

Dr. Dana Kadavy is the new executive director of Austin’s forensic science division. She says the last backlogged batch will have test results back in September. New cases after that should be at the lab about 60 days. 

“It is my vision to provide a safe community for you and your family and all of those who are lucky enough to live here in Austin,” said Dr. Kadavy.

Chief Manley said 67 came in last month but they are up to normal speed with new cases. 

“For survivors that come forward and reports of victimization, the kit will be turned in the next week or two for processing. It then gets to the lab within the first month.

“Depending on the capacity of that lab at that time, we’re getting them back in about 60 days,” said Manley.

Chief Manley says that sexual assault is one of the least reported crimes in Austin. He hopes this news will spur more people to report.

The Austin police lab’s closure followed an audit APD did in 2016. It uncovered that thousands of samples were contaminated.

Advocates say more work is still needed

“I think there’s probably some relief at this point to know that it’s moving on to the next stage,” said SAFE Alliance VP of Prevention and Community Services Coni Huntsman Stogner. “But I think it’s really important to know that it is just moving now from the backlog to the lab, and it hasn’t been a resolution yet in their particular case. It’s so important to keep in mind that each one of those thousands of kits represented someone who was sexually assaulted and represents a person who wants closure and justice.”

Stogner says sexual assault victims still have a long road ahead of them once their DNA test results come back. 

“There are a lot of pieces that are under-resourced and where staff are stretched, so I would like to see more devotion of resources to first responders, to people who provide support and counseling, and to prosecution, so that all of the parts of that puzzle have the resources they need,” Stogner said.

She says victims never see a resolution. Austinite Marina Conner is one of them.

“I’m very happy for all these survivors that are getting their rape kits back, but that’s all that’s happening is they’re just getting their rape kits back, and this was APD’s job that they messed up,” Conner said.

 Conner fought for her backlogged kit to be tested for two years.

“It was just a really painful thing to think about it every day and not know and feel like my life was on hold,” Conner said.

Once her kit was finally tested, she was told there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute.

“It was very tragic to hear that my rapist was just going to get to walk free and I couldn’t do anything about it,” Conner said, adding that she fears the same may happen to others. “This is just the tip of the iceberg. It doesn’t stop there. The rape kit’s back, and now nothing’s going to happen in most of these cases, because our judicial system doesn’t provide enough resources or enough money to provide to the DAs to pick up these cases.”

“I think our community could be doing a lot better than we currently are in terms of prosecution rates,” Stogner said. “SAFE is at the table with law enforcement and prosecution to try and improve our system, and there certainly is room for improvement to get those prosecution rates up.”

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