Mayor Parker's report to City Council at the regularly scheduled meeting on February 13 was presented by Houston Forensic Science, LGC, the new independent crime lab's, explaining the announcement of a plan to eliminate the backlog of more than 6600 untested rape kits in 12-14 months. Some rape kits have remained untested in storage for decades. As an indication of the importance of this issue for many citizens, the session and press conference with crime lab chair Scott Hershberg, Executive Assistant Chief T. N. Oetmeir, and Assistant Chief. M.D. Slnkhard, immediately afterward were covered by all major media in Houston.
The crime lab will retain the services of two industry-leading labs using recently-developed technology to achieve the result more rapidly than ever before possible. The high volume and guaranteed work allows the vendors to offer a an average price at about 1/3 the current rates and less than it would cost to to the work in house. The City had already budgeted $5 million , mostly from a federal grant to address the backlog last summer.
According to the Mayor's Press release:
“Today is an important day for rape victims and the city as a whole,” said Mayor Parker. “With this plan we will finally be able to say the backlog is gone. The problem was years in the making and we’ve been working to solve it since I became mayor. It has been a struggle to deal with during a period of extremely difficult economic times, but we remained determined. I am committed to it never happening again.”
HPD is recommending the contract be awarded to Bode Technology Group, Inc. and Sorenson Forensics, LLC. They were selected through a competitive process. Both are recognized leaders in the field and both have worked on other large backlog projects in various places, including New York, Los Angeles and Los Angeles County. Due to the volume of work, the city is able to maximize the use of a low, fixed-price contract.
“This plan will eliminate the backlog of SAKs and other DNA cases entirely,” said Houston Forensic Science LGC Chair Scott Hochberg. “This will allow the existing crime lab to focus on current casework and give the LGC a clean start and the ability to focus on other issues as it works to establish an entirely independent city crime lab.”
“Department personnel have worked diligently on this project and will be implementing an aggressive plan to complete it in an effective and efficient manner,” said Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland. “I am extremely confident this will not be an issue in the future. I am also very proud of all the men and women who have helped us reach this milestone.”
The contract will include the following:
Testing of 6,663 stored SAKs
Testing of 1,450 active SAKs
Testing of 1,000 SAKs HPD anticipates receiving in the next year
Testing of 1,020 other non-SAK cases
The proposed contract with Bode Technology Group and Sorenson Forensics is expected to be on the February 20 City Council agenda. Approval by City Council would clear the way for transfer of all SAKs and other DNA cases to the two firms for the start of testing.