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All of Utah's backlogged DNA evidence from sex-assault cases should be analyzed, and all such rape kits from present and future cases should be processed as well.
That's what Ned Seale, a spokesman for a special work group, told the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Legislative Interim Committee on Wednesday.
The ad hoc work group has defined a priority system for analyzing about 2,700 backlogged rape kits statewide that contain DNA and other forensic evidence, said Jeff Carr, deputy commissioner for the Utah Department of Public Safety.
Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature allocated $750,000 for the analysis of backlogged forensic kits. Some federal funding also may be available for processing them, Carr said.
The state crime lab is establishing the "Utah Quick Analysis Program," Carr told the committee, to analyze DNA but not necessarily all the evidence in the kit. The protocol would be faster and less expensive than the present system. Rather than months, DNA could be analyzed in 60 to 90 days.
Law enforcement agencies in other states that have begun testing backlogged rape kits are discovering that one in three find matches in CODIS, the national criminal DNA database, Donna Kelly, Utah Prosecution Council, said in an interview
"We're going to identify serial rapists," Kelly explained.
Rep. Jennifer Selig, D-Salt Lake City, who has spearheaded the movement in Utah to get backlogged rape kits processed, said she is "cautiously optimistic" that law enforcement agencies will begin to process all such evidence to help give victims some satisfaction while seeking out offenders.
Whether legislation to fund the analysis of sexual-assault evidence will come out of the 2015 legislative session remains unclear. Also uncertain is whether the Legislature will require agencies to test all rape kits.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank reaffirmed last week that he didn't believe analyzing all such kits was necessary or efficient, particularly if the suspect already has been identified.
Further, he said, suspects booked at the Salt Lake County Jail must give DNA samples that go into CODIS.
Members of the work group, however, counter that DNA from rape kits can identify serial rapists who have not been booked into the jail, or who have been arrested before the mandatory DNA swab legislation became law in 2010.
Burbank's department has come under scrutiny from the City Council for not analyzing 79 percent of the Code R kits that contain forensic evidence in reported rapes from 2003 to 2011.
Next month, at Burbank's invitation, the Police Executive Research Forum, a private organization, will begin a 36-month evaluation of sex-assault investigations in Salt Lake City. The inquiry, funded by the federal Department of Justice, would have access to all aspects of rape cases.
Meanwhile, West Valley City has announced that it will host Michigan State University researcher Rebecca Campbell in January to train first responders and detectives in sex-assault investigations. Campbell is at the forefront of the national movement to analyze all rape kits.
Her research reveals that the trauma of sex assault causes the body to release a cascade of various hormones that can disrupt memory for three to four days. The phenomenon can lead investigators, in some cases, to discard reported assaults as unbelievable or unreliable.