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A Sexual Assault Kit Partnership
Speaking in this video:
- Heather Waltke, Associate Director, Office of Investigative and Forensic Science, NIJ
- Gerald LaPorte, Director, Office of Investigative and Forensic Science, NIJ
- Tina Delgado, Biometrics Analysis Section, FBI Laboratory
- Heather LaSalle, Forensic Examiner, DNA Casework Unit, FBI Laboratory
Heather Waltke: The NIJ-FBI Sexual Assault Kit Partnership started out in response to the issue of sexual assault kits that have gone unsubmitted to forensic laboratories nationwide. We saw that there was a problem out there and we wanted to find a solution.
Gerald LaPorte: One of the first things that we do in a lot of situations is we try and figure out if one of our federal partners or another federal agency has the resources that we can leverage to try and put together some sort of partnership. So when we first approached the FBI, they were very favorable—they were excited. I don’t know if, you know, at the time I can’t speak for the FBI, but I don’t know if they knew exactly what they were getting into.
Tina Delgado: Well we were excited to help, there’s no doubt. However, sexual assault kits is not something that we were traditionally used to doing this large of volume, so we definitely want to do the best we can by these cases.
Heather LaSalle: The NIJ and FBI formed a partnership to test sexual assault kits from all across the country.
Gerald LaPorte: The collaboration is about the FBI actually conducting the testing for us; and us, NIJ, collecting evidence and collecting information from those collections to help develop best practices later on.
Heather Waltke: We’re allowing laboratories and law enforcement agencies from across the country to submit to the FBI Laboratory up to 30 sexual assault kits at a time.
Heather LaSalle: In the DNA casework unit, we perform DNA analysis on many different kinds of criminal cases. It can be anything from a homicide, to threat letter envelop case and in addition we test sexual assault kits. We’ve received quite a number of batches so we’ve really seen quite an impact in this partnership so far.
Gerald LaPorte: So certainly, I think the first benefit is that when jurisdictions send in their sexual assault kits—say that are 10 or 15 years old—and those lead to investigations, I would hope that that’s something that’s realized, and if you will an immediate gain. Secondly, hopefully will one day lead to a situation where laboratories can use the information to make decisions how to process kits, how to do it expeditiously. What is the most valuable information?
Tina Delgado: Because we’re looking at so many kits now, which we’ve never done before, it’s going to allow us to collect data that we’ve never been able to collect before and make really meaningful conclusions from that data.
Heather Waltke: We’re learning that there are certain logistical processes and administrative processes on the front-end that may need to take place for the evidence to be submitted to the laboratory expeditiously.
Heather LaSalle: We came up with some new workflows, some new processes that has really made a difference in the amount of time that it takes to test a kit.
Tina Delgado: Because of the large volume of cases and samples that we’re looking at here, we actually go straight to DNA testing which we’ve never done before. So robotics has really allowed us to select more samples than you would’ve ever been able to select before. So items that you might not viewed important to a crime scene like a straw possibly left behind by the perpetrator, now you can put that in on a robot and look at samples you might otherwise have ignored. And it’s really allowing us to look at this great data to see systemically what samples work the best, what kinds of collections work the best and that’s where we’re going to get that all that great data and make those amazing conclusions that everybody can benefit from.
Gerald LaPorte: So far the FBI has processed thousands of samples. We have identified a DNA profile on hundreds of samples.
Heather Waltke: And so that means that more DNA profiles are entering into the database, which will enable law enforcement to obtain additional investigative leads which will lead to the apprehension of more criminals and thus increase public safety.
Gerald LaPorte: Our ultimate objective is to make society safer. Some people think of forensic science as a “reactive” science, because we’re testing evidence after a crime has occurred, but what a lot of people don’t realize is it’s “proactive” in the sense that we’re testing evidence to either exonerate an individual or to get that perpetrator of a crime off the streets so that they don’t do that crime again.
Heather Waltke: I think it’s incredibly important to take on this research now because not only do we want to assist state and local law enforcement agencies in processing these kits, but we want to be able to understand the factors that will impact laboratories in taking on additional influx of evidence. And also in prevention of an issue such as this from re-occurring in the future.
Tina Delgado: So really the biggest thing we can contribute to this is actually published guidelines of all of our lessons learned from these massive amounts of cases that we’ve accepted. What have we learned from this data, what can we recommend going forward? And we’ll learn from that as well and apply that to FBI cases and do those better ourselves so everyone wins with this initiative.
Opinions or points of view expressed in these recordings represent those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Any commercial products and manufacturers discussed in these recordings are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice.