LAPD bolsters DNA tests

The most unforgivable vice of ripped-from-the-headlines televisions shows like Law and Order: SVU — beside implying that all women who work in New York precincts shop exclusively at TJ Maxx — is that they lead the public to believe that most cases of rape and murder are cleanly solved in the span of a few weeks.

In reality, the United States is currently facing a formidable backlog of unsolved rape and murder cases — at least 350,000 nationwide — that are in bureaucratic limbo awaiting DNA testing. Our very own Golden State’s Department of Justice houses one of the largest testing bottlenecks in the nation, which has only grown since Proposition 69 passed in January mandating that all arrestees be tested.

Even US cities with relatively low crime rates are facing daunting workloads — and nationwide budget cuts to staff have not made the process any quicker. Detroit has as many as 10,000 samples on the backburner; Houston has about 4,000.

As it turns out, one of the few cities making any real progress is our very own. In 2008, LAPD admitted that there were approximately 7,500 so-called “rape kits” in public storage awaiting testing. On Monday, LAPD Chief William J. Bratton announced in a letter that in the course of one year, the amount has been reduced by about 50 percent — to 3,157.

This is the result of a concentrated initiative spearheaded by Bratton and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2008 — an initiative other states would do well to follow. The two made plans to outsource DNA testing to outside labs and allocate more funding for hiring staff.

By the numbers, the effects are far from negligible. Since 2008, 405 of the kits tested have turned up matches in state databases.

LAPD has not been lauded as of late, but officials deserve a well-earned kudos for these efforts. Assuming they are held to task, the Los Angeles DNA backlog should be eradicated by 2011.

The push proves that the allocation of funds in this sector yields concrete results. California is not the only state to be in a dire budget crisis, but it has been the first to make drastic reductions to the large number of festering cases.

Unlike cop shows, these are problems solved in real time.

Lucy Mueller is a junior majoring in cinema-television production, and is the Daily Trojan’s editorial director.