Wednesday, October 08, 2014

19 sex-assault indictments so far from testing Houston rape-kit backlog

The Houston Chronicle's Mike Morris brought us an update (Oct. 6) on the vetting of the Houston PD's rape kit testing backlog. The story opened:
Houston's effort to test a nearly three-decade backlog of sexual assault kits has resulted in new charges filed against 19 people, city officials said Monday, including 10 suspects identified and arrested for the first time.

One of the new suspects has been charged in connection with two assaults; another remains at large, Houston Police Department spokesman John Cannon said. The other eight suspects, he said, already are in jail on other charges and now face sexual assault charges.

City Council in 2013 paid $4.4 million to two private labs to test DNA samples from 9,750 cases, including a backlog of 6,600 rape kits dating to 1987. The labs' work is nearly done, and staff from HPD and the city's forensics lab now are entering all eligible genetic information into the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, a national law enforcement database.

So far, DNA from 1,031 of those cases has produced "hits," meaning a suspect's DNA already was in the database in connection with an earlier crime. In the vast majority of cases reviewed to date, officials said the suspects are known to police, having been arrested, convicted or detained at some point.

HPD Assistant Chief Matt Slinkard said the reviews have confirmed police arrested the right person in 58 sexual assault cases, but officials did not release details Monday about these cases or the 19 suspects hit with new charges. The Houston Chronicle reported in April the testing had identified at least one serial rapist already in jail on other charges.
Some have criticized this process, often anonymously, as wasteful given the bang for the buck. For those critics: Explain in the comments how many sexual assault cases would be enough to justify the expense?


Chris H said...

I'll reiterate my complaint from previous posts on this topic. Why were the rape kits put on the shelf in the first place?

Are they put on the shelf because of some unknown assailant or was it put there because all it would prove is that you have an accusation and evidence that sex occurred?

Do the cases that end up on the shelf involve otherwise difficult to prosecute cases even if you know the identity of the accused?

Did you already know the identity of the accused and still couldn't make a case to support the charge?

Did the first investigation bring us to a dead end and now we're charging people to justify the program?

Are we counting on people pleading to lesser charges and calling that a win because of the king of the courtroom you blogged about earlier this week?

How many of those does it take to justify the criticism?

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Anonymous said...

Grits, your argument could be expanded to other areas of the criminal justice system such as incarceration. A victim of a crime is going to assign a much higher cash amount than a bean counter or statistician but there are two points to make:
1) Why require testing of evidence that cannot be used to try a suspect or exonerate someone convicted of a crime? If resources were unlimited, that would be one thing but they are not.

2) Certainly Grits and his readers are skeptical enough of city government to avoid taking anything said by a ranking official at face value. The city has been under a microscope for years on this issue and now that it has shelled out millions in testing costs combined with millions more in man hours for related support of analyzing the data and investigating it. From what I understand, almost all of the cases involving an indictment under this new program would have happened even if the extensive testing did not take place, the city including cases that were relatively fresh and still actively being worked in the mix.

Who here has not seen some statistical manipulations to justify otherwise wasteful government actions? It is my contention that HPD assigned many more personnel to this dog and pony show and lumped newer cases in with the old to retroactively justify the expense. So the resulting 1 or 2 cases picked up out of the nearly 10,000 does seem like a wasteful use of funds. Further, the personal reassigned to bolster the sex crimes unit were not untrained patrol officers, traffic cops, administrative flunkies, or other lower level employees; they were the cream of the crop from other investigative divisions so when a robbery or homicide doesn't get solved or is greatly delayed, consider that part of the "cost" you weren't figuring into the equation.

Anonymous said...

Another interesting statistic would be how many hits are for crimes outside the statute of limitations. One could question the wastefulness of testing those; however it would show damage done by not doing testing earlier and those crimes can still be used in punishment.