Kelley Key Award 2008
Notes for the October 20, 2008 Police Commission Weekly Meeting

Chief Bratton Calls News Conference to Address Concerns

podcast DNA.MP3

Los Angeles:  Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Chief William Bratton spoke to the media Monday evening at a news conference held in Los Angeles to respond to several issues that have received recent media attention, including: the Department’s handling of backlogged DNA cases, latent fingerprint issues, racial profiling and the death of Kazuyoshi Miura in the Parker Center Jail. 

DNA Testing

On October 20, 2008, at about 5:30 p.m., Bratton spoke to the media just prior to a previously scheduled Community Police Commission Meeting at the Rampart Division.  During the news conference, Bratton acknowledged Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick’s just released audit on the Department’s backlog of more than 7000 sexual assault kits. Each kit contains evidence in various forms, including DNA and other biological elements.  Chick called for a three-year plan to reduce the backlog and to take measures that will ensure that the Department’s ability to keep pace with this type of evidence collection.

Bratton thanked Chick for helping to make this issue a top priority for City leaders.  The problem has been that the accumulation of the DNA kits has accelerated to a point where police personnel cannot keep pace with analyzing them, a nationwide problem that many law enforcement organizations are struggling to handle.  To address the problem, LAPD has initiated a two-prong plan.

Firstly, the Department has proposed a three-phase plan to hire new DNA analysts and equipment to keep pace with the incoming evidence and prevent further backlog.  Phase 1 has already been completed and includes the expansion of DNA analytic capacity through the hiring of new criminalists and lab technicians who are housed in a new state-of-the-art facility. Phase 2, currently unfunded, is slated to add 16 new criminalists and lab technicians, and Phase 3, also unfunded, would add 17 more.

Secondly, LAPD would establish contracts with accredited labs across the country to reduce the backlog to zero by 2013 at an annual cost of $2.1 million.

There is also a current effort to raise money through private donations in order to get the backlogged kits tested.

The challenge of analyzing DNA kits in a timely manner is not a recent issue and goes back to at least 2002 when the importance of DNA testing became apparent and the backlog of testing began to accumulate. At that time, the Department requested $4.1 million to address the increasing workload, but the request was denied.  Since then,  multiple requests have been denied, exacerbating the problem and causing the backlog. 

The Department acknowledges the undeniable value of DNA testing, the importance of every case and the potential for DNA evidence, even on seemingly minor cases, to lead to additional evidence and the unlocking of many other cases.

Since 2004, the LAPD has received nearly $4 million in federal grant funds. Unfortunately, mistakes have been made, including an administrative error that caused $500,000 earmarked for DNA analysis to be reallocated to another jurisdiction. 

Latent Prints

Bratton acknowledged that recent personnel actions have been taken as a result of human errors resulting in erroneous fingerprint identifications.  He emphasized that the overwhelming number of cases, handled by nearly 100 employees in the Department’s fingerprint unit, regularly meets the high standards of its prosecutorial partners.

In addition, a taskforce has been established to address all of the latent print issues. It will be headed by Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, LAPD Detective Bureau Commanding Officer. The co-chair of the taskforce will be Police Administrator Gerald Chaleff of the Consent Decree Bureau. The LAPD Inspector General and representatives from the district attorney’s office will round out the taskforce.

Bratton has also consulted with his counterparts at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) regarding a partnership to establish a “best practices” model for fingerprint identifications.  To help facilitate this process, FBI Executive Assistant Director of Science and Technology Lou Grever will be working with the Department to establish audits and initiate protocols for random testing, which will incorporate new management systems to help ensure excellence.

Moving this plan forward, effective Nov. 9, 2008, Bratton will relocate the Department’s Scientific Identification Division operations to its Detective Bureau, under the command of Deputy Chief Charlie Beck.  This reorganization will provide for a more synergistic relationship between analysts and detectives as it relates to the processing of evidence.

Report on Racial Bias

Bratton addressed a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that accused the LAPD of racial profiling.  Bratton reiterated the point that because police officers are human beings they may come to the Department with certain biases. However, as in the past, the Department will continue to focus on its commitment to prevent racial profiling and eradicate it when it surfaces.

Serious consideration is given to the issue of racial bias during recruitment, selection, training, and the continuing education of officers.  Bratton also noted that much of the criteria used for the ACLU’s findings were faulty for the purpose of establishing whether or not racial profiling has occurred.  For example, the use of census data is inappropriate in a highly mobile city like Los Angeles, where people often don’t live and work in the same area and are constantly on the move by numerous means of transportation.  Similarly, in studies conducted during ride-alongs with officers on patrol, findings showed that 21 percent of the time during daylight hours and 32 percent during hours of darkness, it was not possible to determine the race or ethnicity of people driving.   Additionally, using the officer’s race compared to the race of the person the officer detains is equally inappropriate.  This theory presupposes that there is only one officer making the determination. However, in the vast majority of these situations, two officers are involved in the decision.

Death of Murder Suspect Kazuyoshi Miura

Bratton acknowledged an allegation in regards to the death of extradited murder suspect Kazuyoshi Miura being a homicide.  Bratton stated that based on the evidence, Miura’s death was a suicide.  He went on to remind everyone that “the Los Angeles County Coroner has not yet released the scientific findings; but based on what we know to be true, we have every reason to believe that it could only have been a suicide.”

The Chief, along with the men and woman of the LAPD, are committed to providing the highest level of service to the citizens of Los Angeles and will constantly strive to uphold the highest ideals of the Los Angeles Police Department.

For further information, please contact Media Relations Section at 213-485-3586.

Comments

Dear Mr Bratton:

Perhaps in the process of researching this problem you have learned enough about isolating DNA from forensic samples to understand that the reason there is a backlog of sexual assault cases, while there is not a backlog for mouth swabs, is due to the technical difficulty of obtaining pure male DNA from a vaginal swab. I mention mouth swabs (or buccal swabs as we call them in the business) because these are obtained from each felon leaving prison and DNA is made from these swabs and profiled. Crime labs are processing millions of mouth swabs each year and there is no backlog problem because the process of obtaining pure DNA from a mouth swab is easy. Vaginal swabs taken from rape victims are much more difficult because these swabs have lots of contaminating DNA from the victim that must be removed before the sperm DNA from the rapist can be profiled. It is the process of removing the victim's DNA that is so tedious and costly, and there simply are not enough qualified technicians in the crime labs to do the work, even if the money were available (which it sounds like it is).

A number of people in this field, including myself, are working on new ways to process vaginal swabs that reduce the amount of labor involved. I recently submitted a paper to the Journal of Forensic Sciences (the official publication of the American Society of Forensic Sciences) describing such a method and the paper has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication. I can give you a pre-print if you like. This paper shows that the contaminating DNA can be removed by selectively degrading it, rather than physically removing it the way it has been done in the past. If this new method works as well in crime labs as it does in my research lab, the sexual assault backlog will be solved by a technical advance that reduces the cost and more importantly the labor involved in making pure sperm DNA from a vaginal swab by a factor of 10 or more.

BY the way, I am an LA native (from Santa Monica) now working in Switzerland and I have been following the LA backlog problem closely. Is there anyone that you met in the crime labs that I can talk to about my new method?

Thanks, Alex Garvin

One of the major reasons there is a backlog of DNA cases is the huge amounts of money being spent on "Auditing" for the Consent Decree. Civilian Auditors are making large amounts of overtime, while major felony cases slip away, with suspects getting a free ride. The victims are forgotten by a Department that is more into political correctness than solving crime. Maybe the salaries and overtime of the auditors should be audited.

Why the findings regarding LAPD stops will always be suspect.

LAPD stop data is derived from the Field Data Report (FDR) and there has been a fatal flaw in this Report since its creation, resulting in data that cannot be trusted for statistical application.

The purpose of requiring officers to record stop data was to determine if racial bias was being applied during detentions, searches and arrests. Officers are required to record the perceived race of the person they detain at the time they initiated the detention. This is where the problem of bad data begins. There are many instances where a detention occurs before the officer has any idea of the race of the detained individual. This is most often the case with traffic stops. However, the FDR has no place for "unknown." Consequently, the race of the person detained has to be entered for these cases where it was not known until the detention had already occurred and the officer was able to meet with the detained person. It is unknown how often this occurs, but it is significant. For stop data to be accurate, these situations where the officer was unaware of the person's race must be recorded. Right now they are being recorded inaccurately and consequently the data is flawed from the very beginning.

Another area the public may not be aware of is the many times when stop data is required for actions beyond the control of the officer. I'm specifically referring to radio calls where the officer is responding to a call for service that was assigned. All calls for service require the same FDR be completed. The only exceptions are: homicide, rape, robbery, assault, domestic violence, shots fired, suspect with a knife or gun, kidnapping, bomb threat, child in danger of physical harm caused by another, officer needs help or assistance and battery.

This results in many FDR's where the officer has no choice with whom he or she interacts with, detains, or arrests.

It is unfortunate that no media source has been reporting this information so the public would better understand the many inherent problems of the FDR program that costs the City millions but returns only controversy based upon research that would not withstand academic scrutiny. That's probably why years ago when this first started, several nationally recognized mathematicians declared the entire program so fatally flawed as to be scientifically worthless.

How about agreeing the king has no clothes and using the money for DNA testing of those 7000 rape kits!



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