Sacramento, California - Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced her sponsorship of two bills which will improve statewide tracking of forensic evidence through the adoption of technology.
The legislative package directs law enforcement to take advantage of two secure databases operated by the California Department of Justice: the CODIS Hit Outcome Project (CHOP), which enables agencies to share confidential information about the outcomes of DNA matches; and the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Tracking (SAFE-T) database, which will enable the state to track the collection and processing of sexual assault evidence kits.
“DNA evidence is a tool that provides law enforcement with critical evidence to bring justice to sexual assault victims,” said Attorney General Harris. “By taking full advantage of the state’s existing forensic tracking technologies, these bills will bolster and modernize law enforcement efforts to solve sexual assault crimes.”
AB 1848 by Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) will direct all local law enforcement agencies to use a second tracking system within the California Department of Justice, the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Tracking (SAFE-T) tool. This database was specifically designed by the Attorney General’s Bureau of Forensic Services to allow local law enforcement agencies to log and track the status of all so-called “rape kits” collected from victims of sexual assault. The bill will include annual reporting to the state on metrics relating to how many kits were collected and how many kits were indeed analyzed by a DNA lab. In cases where local agencies decide not to test a kit, they will be required to provide a reason.
“Survivors of sexual assault who are submitting sexual assault evidence kits aren’t getting the answers they need and deserve,” said Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco). “To get at the crux of the backlog problem, we need to know how many kits are collected each year, and if they’re not analyzed, we need to know why. This data will help shed a light on what areas of law enforcement need to change and whether or not they need more resources to get the job done. I look forward to working with Attorney General Harris on this crucial effort.”
SB 1079 by Senator Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) will achieve universal use the state’s CODIS Hit Outcome Project (CHOP) database. This advanced technological database helps streamline criminal casework and enables law enforcement agencies to confidentially share information on the outcomes of DNA matches when their own evidence comes back with a positive match to the same known perpetrator. The database also features a tracking system that assists local agencies in tracking the progress of a DNA hit once crime scene forensic evidence has been matched against a sample in the national database. Universal adoption of CHOP will ensure that California’s law enforcement agencies are able to fully leverage this technology to promote public safety.
“My bill ensures that local agencies use cold hit information to its full potential for case investigations. Proper use of a statewide system will mean investigations will be more efficient, repeat offenders will be found in the system, and rape kits will be accurately tracked, among other benefits,” said State Senator Glazer (D-Orinda).
Both CHOP and SAFE-T are secure, web-based databases made available to local law enforcement agencies free of charge. The California Department of Justice, which manages the state’s DNA Data Bank Program, created CHOP in 2009. SAFE-T was created in 2015 in part as a response to recommendations from a report by the State Auditor. When evidence taken from a sexual assault kit is analyzed and matched to a sample in CODIS, the SAFE-T profile is automatically linked to a database entry in CHOP.
In California, law enforcement collects DNA samples from all felony offenders and arrestees, which are submitted into the CODIS database. When a DNA sample is taken from a crime scene involving an unidentified suspect, the database is checked for possible matches. In January 2012, Attorney General Harris announced that, for the first time ever, the backlog of untested DNA evidence in state labs had been eliminated. Since that time, the Department’s Bureau of Forensic Services has assisted counties in clearing their own backlogs.
In April 2014, the Attorney General’s innovative RADS program received the United States Department of Justice’s Award for Professional Innovation in Victim Services, and in 2015 the program was awarded a $1.6 million grant to test sexual assault evidence kits at local laboratories.