The backlog of sexual assault kits was a problem Mayor Parker inherited from previous administrations, but one that she was determined to take on.
"We didn't want a fix. We didn't want to peace meal it. We wanted a solution. We wanted the solution to be as cost effective as possible but once and for all, let's get rid of this issue and discussion of backlog DNA testing of sexual assault kits."
A proposal involves contracting outside labs to perform the testing — with the goal of clearing the entire backlog of more than 6,600 kits in a little more than a year.
"We're able to get essentially volume pricing, one third the cost of our normal DNA outsourcing. This will allow us to resolve the backlog, take care of existing cases that threaten to bog down as we try to juggle all the things that we're trying to do, and allows the new forensic center to move forward, free of the burdens of the past."
The proposed contract with Bode Technology Group and Sorenson Forensics will include the following: Testing of 6,663 stored sexual assault kits (or SAKs), 1,450 active SAKs, 1,000 SAKs HPD anticipates receiving in the next year, and 1,020 other non-SAK cases.
Former state lawmaker Scott Hochberg chairs Houston Forensic Science LGC, a local government corporation that provides forensic science services for the city. He told council the total work to be done involves more than 10,000 cases.
"Doing the adjusted volume and leveraging the pricing would clear all the DNA work in the city of Houston. So we have the stored SAK's to be tested, we have the active cases where a request has already been made, we have those other crimes other than sexual assault, where DNA evidence might play a role, and then we have the anticipated sexual assault kits that we will be receiving over the next year."
Before she came to council, Ellen Cohen was a longtime fixture at the Houston Area Women's Center.
"A rape kit is second only to the rape itself. It degrades the individual, and when I say the individual, I'm talking about women, men and children. It's painful; it's humiliating, and to go through that, and then not to have your kit tested is probably the greatest indignity, following the rape, that you can have."
The Houston Police Department is recommending the $4.4 million dollar contract be awarded to two companies that have worked on other large backlog projects in New York and Los Angeles.
Approval by council next week would clear the way for transfer of all sexual assault kits and other DNA cases.