Audit finds Sacramento Police Department has backlog of untested rape kits
September 6th, 2023
An audit found the Sacramento Police Department has failed to comply with a rape kit law more than four years after a state deadline.
The department only began work to belatedly follow the state law after the City Auditor's Office identified the issue earlier this year, city staff said Tuesday.
Signed into law in 2018, Assembly Bill 3118 required law enforcement agencies to count all of their untested sexual assault evidence kits and report data to the California Department of Justice by July 2019. The Sacramento Police Department was one of more than 500 agencies that didn't meet the deadline, according to a 2020 state report, which showed 149 agencies complied.
Police Chief Kathy Lester said the department is working to send a report to the state, but told the budget and audit committee she could not explain why it didn't meet the deadline four years ago. Daniel Hahn led the department at the time.
"I don't have an answer for you," Lester said during the committee meeting on Tuesday. "You know, I can tell you that many senior leaders in our department have moved on to retirement and so they are just simply not here to ask. And we don't have records."
The city auditor's office discovered police had not audited kits in May, analyst Kevin Christensen said. After the auditor brought the issue to the department's attention, police counted 291 untested kits in their inventory, Deputy Chief Steve Oliveira said.
While Oliveira said the tally could change, the total is less than what the auditor estimated based on a sample analysis. The auditor's office estimated the department had 340 untested kits out of 1,632 collected prior to 2016 and also reported that police officials said they didn't do an audit earlier because of inadequate staffing.
A retired detective and the Sacramento County District Attorney Office's Crime Laboratory are evaluating the kits to determine why they weren't tested, Oliveira said. Reasons why they weren't tested could include a suspect confessing or a victim withdrawing their statements, he added.
Council member Eric Guerra said he worries about the rationales why kits aren't tested, especially in the wake of Assembly Bill 3118 and Senate Bill 22. The latter went into effect in 2020 and requires law enforcement agencies to send all rape evidence kits conducted after January 2016 to a crime lab for testing within 20 days of collection.
"We know that in domestic violence cases, many times people go back to their perpetrator and they recant," Guerra said. "So, it was, again, the impetus of testing as many kits as possible."
The police department appeared to prioritize complying with Senate Bill 22 over Assembly Bill 3118, according to the auditor's report. Based on a sample, the auditor estimated the department has tested all sexual assault kits collected after 2016. Lester said the department last year assigned a retired detective to ensure all 973 such kits were tested.
In addition to recommending police count and report untested rape kits, the auditor's office also suggested the department work with city management to prioritize testing the kits, create a policy to discard old sexual assault evidence and apply for grants to reduce the number of untested rape kits. The department said it's using its operating budget to pay for the audit it plans to send to the state.
The committee asked the police department to provide a timeline of when it will meet the auditor's recommendations. Mayor Darrell Steinberg didn't specify a date for when the full City Council will discuss the report, but said it's important to review how police handled untested kits.
"There needs to be an accounting and we need to own that," Steinberg said. "And we may owe apologies or other relief to people."
The auditor's office looked into sexual assault kits while working on a larger audit of the police department's evidence and property division. The report comes about two months after Sacramento's Office of Public Safety Accountability presented an audit alleging police violated the Fourth Amendment when primarily searching Black and Latino people's cars between 2020 and 2022.
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