DA's Office Adds Staff In Anticipation of Influx in Rape Cases from DNA Testing

Dallas police and the county prosecutors are testing the city's 4,140 backlogged rape kits. That's good. What's less good is the strain the inevitable DNA matches the tests find will place on District Attorney Susan Hawk's office. To prepare, Hawk announced Wednesday she's expanding her office's sexual assault unit, adding an additional attorney and an investigator. The office will be expanded further, Hawk said, if the office is able to secure grant funding.

“Our sexual assault unit already has a very heavy caseload, so as DPD begins processing these untested kits and our office receives new cases, we felt it was critical to expand this team so we can move these cases forward at a faster rate. These victims have waited long enough. Some of them have been waiting for years knowing that the person who hurt them is still out there, so we shouldn’t require them to wait any longer," Hawk said in a statement.

In 2014, the unit handled 209 cases. Results from other cities that have begun churning through their own backlogs show that the unit can expect its workload to rise steeply.   

Beginning in 2013, Houston has spent more than $6 million to clear its 6,663 kit backlog. By the time the results of Houston's testing were announced in February, 850 hits had turned up in the FBI's nationwide DNA database, covering about 13 percent of the kits.

Houston's results are not out of line with what Dallas County has experienced since beginning preliminary testing on the rape kits this fall. Each week, 65 kits are tested. The district attorney's office says, so far, about 10 percent of tests have resulted in a match. At that rate, the sexual assault unit's caseload would roughly double.

Potentially though, the match rate for the kits could be much higher. In Detroit, which is now crawling out from beneath a decades-old 11,000 kit backlog, the hit rate on the first 2,000 kits tested was over 30 percent. 
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young