In the year since Human Rights Watch's Sarah Tofte revealed that the LAPD had 7,000 of America's estimated 400,000 untested rape kits, Nicholas Kristof and a PBS report show it's not much better.

The documentary, Justice Delayed (it airs on PBS stations tomorrow night - check local listings) focuses on the situation in Los Angeles and examines why so many kits have been languishing in cold storage; what the department has done about it in the last year; and how far they still have to go. When New York City faced a similar problem years ago — 16,000 untested rape kits — it took four years and a boatload of money and new hiring (did anyone say "economic stimulus"?) to reduce the backlog. That time and effort resulted in 2,000 cold hit arrests. Part of the problem, according to LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, is that there aren't enough (expensive-to-hire) skilled technicians to perform the tests, which involve replicating DNA in less-than-ideal circumstances and developing a genetic profile.

Kristof's column weighs in on the problem, too.

Stunningly often, the rape kit isn't tested at all because it's not deemed a priority. If it is tested, this happens at such a lackadaisical pace that it may be a year or more before there are results (if expedited, results are technically possible in a week).

So while we have breakthrough DNA technologies to find culprits and exculpate innocent suspects, we aren't using them properly - and those who work in this field believe the reason is an underlying doubt about the seriousness of some rape cases. In short, this isn't justice; it's indifference.

Well, that's all well and good — but not every case can be expedited without having the staff — and expediting one case for analysis pre-arrest might mean putting off another analysis required for trial (and pre-trial disclosure). When the supply of analysts is short and the demand is high, things are going to slip — and that's a resource, not an attitude, problem.

DNA testing is still a labor-intensive process that requires skilled labor and time, both of which are at a premium in assault investigations and, often, prosecutions. While efforts need to be made to reduce testing backlogs and the systemic problems that contribute to backlogs — including, goodness knows, attitudes about sexual assault and their prosecution — it's also important to talk about and work on the need to encourage more people (and, particularly women) to enter into these technical fields and for local, state and federal agencies to spend money on recruiting, training and keeping employed the very people whose work is so vital to getting these tests performed in a timely fashion.

Justice Delayed [NOW]
Is Rape Serious? [NY Times]

Earlier: LA Rape Kits Backlog
LAPD Allows Prosecution Deadline To Lapse For Hundreds Of Unexamined Rape Kits