HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Police Department no longer has a backlog of 6,600 untested rape samples, police officials said this week, pledging to have new ones tested in a timely manner.
Police Chief Charles McClelland said the backlog was resolved by sending the "rape kits" to outside labs for quicker processing. City funding and federal grants paid for the work. Rape kits are the informal term for biological samples and physical evidence gathered from victims of sexual assaults that are later processed to see if they match a suspect's DNA.
"There is no backlog regarding DNA (evidence) and sexual assault kits," McClelland told the Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1bXwRuv ), adding that criminal investigations will be updated if usable evidence is found.
Forensic testing at the department's crime lab was temporarily suspended in 2002 and outside audits later documented problems like lax supervision, technicians who made serious errors in testing and a leak in the lab's ceiling that contaminated evidence.
Houston is transitioning to a city lab independent of the police, a local public corporation called the Houston Forensic LGC Inc. Last week, the governing board selected forensic expert Dr. Daniel Garner as its president.
Past critics of the department's forensic services, including the city's largest police union, say they expect the crime lab not to lag behind again.
"Under this chief and mayor, it better be sustainable because they made it very clear to the (assistant) chief who took over that position that it is not going to happen again," said Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officer's Union.
Assistant Chief Matt Slinkard said police investigators receive about 1,000 new sexual assault cases each year, and these cases are also being sent to a pair of outside laboratories. Other criminal cases needing forensic testing are being processed at the Houston police lab.
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com