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How Research and Technology Are Expanding Sexual Assault Kit Testing

Gerald LaPorte; Heather Waltke; Heather LaSalle; Tina Delgado

NIJ Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences Director Gerald LaPorte and Deputy Director Heather Waltke, along with Heather LaSalle, Forensic Examiner, DNA Casework Unit, and Tina Delgado, Chief, Biometrics Division from the FBI Laboratory discuss how scientific advances can help jurisdictions process a large number of previously unsubmitted sexual assault kits.

Speaking in this video:

  • Gerald LaPorte, Director, Office of Investigative and Forensic Science, NIJ
  • Heather Waltke, Associate Director, Office of Investigative and Forensic Science, NIJ
  • Tina Delgado, Biometrics Analysis Section, FBI Laboratory
  • Heather LaSalle, Forensic Examiner, DNA Casework Unit, FBI Laboratory

Gerald LaPorte: What we knew was that there were a lot of law enforcement agencies that had sexual assault kits that needed to be tested.

Heather Waltke: What's been happening is law enforcement agencies are finding that they have large amounts of unsubmitted sexual assault kits, and these kits will eventually, because of new advances in DNA technology, make it into the laboratory.

Tina Delgado: You know, 25 years ago you needed wildly large amounts of DNA to get a profile than you need today. One of the things that has changed most dramatically is that since roughly 2000 we've been able to do DNA typing on really minute quantities of evidence.

Heather Waltke: And this influx of kits into the laboratory will, possibly, either cause some disruption, or interrupt the flow of current evidence in the laboratory.

Gerald LaPorte: The reality of the situation is that there are decisions that have to be made at a certain point, and testing every single kit that's been collected over the past 20 or 25 years, at the same time as processing evidence that's collected from crime scenes on a daily basis--it becomes a huge challenge. The other thing that a lot of people don't realize is the time intensity of processing a sexual assault kit in a laboratory.

Heather LaSalle: I think a lot of people watch television programs, and they get an idea that, you know, you put the swab in an instrument and out pops a DNA profile. I mean, there are a lot more steps to that, it's a lot more complicated than that. Over the years we've definitely made vast improvements to the DNA procedure. It used to take, you know, weeks and weeks to perform a DNA analysis, and it's much quicker than that, but it's not as quick as you see on TV.

Gerald LaPorte: The advances in technology, the advances in DNA testing, have led us to a point where we now understand the value of DNA evidence. This was not something that was completely recognized a decade or two decades ago, so what that has led law enforcement agencies to, is to really realize this potential of this untested evidence that remains in law enforcement agencies all over the country.

Date Created: August 13, 2019