Austin police chief finds $500k in budget to clear rape kit backlog

FILE - APD DNA Lab (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - APD DNA Lab (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The city is one step closer to finding justice for victims of sexual assault. Monday, the Austin Police Chief announced he has found $500,000 in his department to pay for untested rape kits, $200,000 would come from a grant.

This comes after the abrupt closure of APD’s DNA lab in June.

“We are seeing a request for exam rate of about two per day sourcing, roughly about 50 to 60 survivors a month, so it is very important that we get this situation resolved. That were able to test DNA in a timely fashion,” Victoria Berryhill, communications coordinator with the SAFE Alliance says. They’re an advocacy group that helps women who’ve experienced sexual assault.

“It is unfortunate that it has taken this long to address it. There are survivors that have been waiting an astronomical amount of time to move forward with prosecution in their case because they can’t take that first step which is analyzing the DNA,” Berryhill says.

The city council has added $1.4 million to its general fund to re-train people and add seven analysts and one supervisor. They’re set to vote on that along with their entire budget on Wednesday.

“People’s lives are at stake here”, Council member Don Zimmerman says. He’s been critical of the budget process.

He also thinks all city departments need more transparency.

Right now Austin police announced they are doing their own internal review of the DNA lab, after a report from the The Texas Forensic Science Commission found there was a case where there was a DNA mix-up. APD wants to know how many other cases could be affected.

We went to the Texas Forensic Science Commission themselves, and they gave us the following statement:

Additional work needs to be done to assess whether the issue is limited to the sexual assault case discussed in the Commission¹s report or whether it might be present in other cases.  The Commission made recommendations regarding this issue, including a root cause analysis of the referenced case and a review of the analyst¹s cases for the six month terms before and after the incident as a starting point. If that review shows any indicators of possible cross-contamination in other cases, the case review would need to be expanded.”

“Its probably a good first step, but we would probably need an independent audit, an independent investigation to see how we stand up and to make sure that our DNA results are admissible in court and to make sure the results are accurate,” Zimmerman said.

Austin police said they would not give any updates on the DNA lab or the internal review until after council votes Wednesday.

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