Houston Forensic Science Center has plan to eliminate rape kit backlog

HOUSTON – The city of Houston’s independent crime lab is planning to spend millions of dollars over the next 11 months to outsource DNA testing to reduce a backlog of cases and to provide training for staff with the aim of alleviating the problem for good.

The Houston Forensic Science Center currently has a backlog of just under 1,000 pieces of evidence awaiting DNA analysis, which that includes about 200 rape kits and about 150 pieces of evidence connected to homicide investigations. 

To alleviate the backlog, HFSC plans to spend about $2 million to hire an outside laboratory to process new incoming DNA cases and to cross-train employees in the DNA lab to speed up processing time. 

Backlogs are a long-running problem for the city’s crime labs.

“Really this time we’re trying to break that cycle of moving backlog around, get everybody so they can work on multiple different things, we’ve hired a lot of additional people. I think we’ve got the equipment in place,” said Peter Stout, a doctor at Houston Forensic Science Center.

The HFSC took on crime analysis for the city in 2014 after the Houston Police Department’s crime lab was closed. That was after a series of scandals including a backlog of over 4,000 rape kits. 

With the current backlog, Stout said it takes about 120 days to process DNA evidence. He said the goal is to reduce that to 30 days.

Randall Kallinen, an attorney who has sued the city over the HPD lab backlog, said the untested rape kits allowed at least three serial rapists to remain free to assault victims. 

Kallinen said 120 days to process DNA evidence is not acceptable. 

“A serial rapist can do some serious harm in four months. The city promised to get it down to 30 days and citizens should hold them to it,” he said.