California state senator Scott Wiener and San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin filed new legislation Monday prohibiting law enforcement agencies from storing DNA acquired from rape kits in searchable databases that may be used to identify criminal suspects.
The new legislation, Senate Bill 1228, was introduced in response to revelations last month by the district attorney’s office that an unidentified suspect in a recent property crime in San Francisco had been identified via DNA from the scene that matched a woman’s DNA from a 2016 sexual assault exam.
Boudin stated that he dismissed the charges against the unidentified woman. Police Chief Bill Scott said that he had altered the department’s crime lab regulations to allow for identifying a victim of sexual assault as a suspect.
“Victims of sexual assault should be encouraged and supported to get sexual assault examinations to identify their attacker,” Boudin said in a statement Monday.
“Rather than that, my office uncovered a police crime lab’s practice of treating victims as criminals. Not only does this violate their privacy, but it also discourages victims from reporting sexual abuse, putting us all at risk.”
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At Wednesday’s Police Commission meeting, Mark Powell, who heads the department’s crime lab, outlined how the rape kit DNA was utilized to identify a suspect.
He stated that the lab established a “quality assurance” database to exclude the possibility of contamination. The database comprises DNA from laboratory personnel, investigators, and any profiles created in the lab — such as sexual assault cases.
Powell said that detectives initially run profiles of unknown suspects through the quality assurance database to ensure they are not uploading corrupted DNA to the state and federal Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. He stated that the laboratory established a quality assurance database in 2015.
However, Powell stated that between 2015 and 2022, the lab began receiving DNA matches in the quality assurance database that did not match in CODIS but were nonetheless reported to investigators.
Scott stated that the lab has subsequently discontinued this practice.
Additionally, the chief stated Monday that he is a staunch supporter of legislative initiatives to protect sexual assault survivors.
“We must never provide an incentive for survivors of sexual assault — or any crime victim — to cooperate with police,” Scott said in a statement.