LOS ANGELES, Calif.–The Los Angeles Police Department’s backlog of untested DNA rape kits, numbering more than 6,000 two years ago, has been eliminated, city officials said today.

“It was 2.5 years ago in this very room that we vowed to investigate every piece of evidence, follow every lead, exhaust every possible avenue that can lead to a prosecution of each open rape case,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. “Today we can announce … the historical backlog of sexual assault evidence kits has been eliminated.”

Villaraigosa said that despite challenging budget years, the city has more than doubled the size of the LAPD Scientific Investigation Division, from 33 to 78 employees.

The mayor was joined by police Chief Charlie Beck, who was charged in 2008 with clearing the backlog by then-Chief Bill Bratton. Bratton said that dozens of arrests have been made as a result of clearing the backlog. “This was a collaboration unlike any that I have seen in my long tenure with the city,” Beck said, highlighting the advocacy efforts of “the politics of this city, the police department of this city, the advocates of this city, the philanthropists, by victims, by everybody.”

Officials said the LAPD is hiring and training 20 more analysts for the SID department to reduce the number of kits the city has analyzed by contractors. “We get about 112-120 sexual assault kits per month,” said LAPD Assistant Chief Michel Moore. “To build our internal capacity where we can type and test those kits, we believe will require all 98 of those individuals.”

Moore said it could take years to get those analysts fully trained and certified.

City Councilman Greig Smith, chair of the Public Safety Committee, said the elimination of the backlog is just the end of phase one. He said phase two begins today when the council begins budget hearings.

The mayor’s proposed budget includes $1.7 million for DNA testing.

“We can never ever get in the situation where we have to tell one single person that their crime is not going to be solved because we don’t have the money to do it or the time to do it,” Smith said.

“To the council, I will offer this challenge: don’t ever ever back step one cent on the commitment we made to get here.”

The announcement of the backlog elimination was timed to coincide with “Denim Day,” which started by the group Peace Over Violence in 1999 when an Italian court overturned a rape conviction partially because the victim was wearing jeans.

Peace Over Violence Executive Director Patti Giggans said she believes the commitment from the LAPD and the city is real, but she cautioned that “science has gotten ahead of us in a lot of ways, and we have to stay in tune with science especially when it comes to public safety.”

“It’s promising to see the commitment of the mayor, the chief and the City Council to not ever again have a rape kit backlog,” Giggans said.

By Richie Duchon | City News Service