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Friday, October 28, 2011

Rape Investigations in New Orleans

   The head of the New Orleans Police Department's sex-crimes unit was replaced in June 2010 after an audit by the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement found that 32 percent of the rape complaints filed in 2009 ended up in the books as "miscellaneous incident" cases. This study followed a 2009 Times-Picayune report revealing that in 2008, 60 percent of rape complaints in the city had been written-up as so-called Signal 21 cases. Police superintendent Ronal Serpas, in response to the scandal, announced that the city planned to hire two DNA specialists to work on rape cases in the Louisiana State Crime Laboratory.

     In March 2011, a review of the New Orleans Police Department's sex-crime unit by the U.S. Department of Justice revealed that detectives rarely interrogated rape suspects, and while questioning rape accusers, suggested they were to blame for their attacks. Investigators, in questioning victims' credibility, often emphasized inconsistent statements, gaps in memory, and various motives for false accusations. This approach encouraged victims to become less cooperative with the police which in turn justified the filing of cases as Signal 21s rather than rapes.

     The head of the New Orleans Police Department's criminal investigations division, in October 2011, announced a backlog consisting of 800 untested rape kits dating back to the late 1980s. These kits contain DNA evidence that had been collected by nurses following reports of sexual assault. The hiring of the two additional DNA analysists had not cleared the backlog at the Louisiana State Crime Laboratory. Some of the New Orleans rape kit testing would be done by DNA experts at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.

     While law enforcement agencies across the country are adding expensive and unnecessary SWAT vehicles to their crime-fighting arsenals, crime labs are struggling with DNA backlogs that keep rapists on the loose.

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