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Cold Case Special Victims Unit CSI

As we round out the time of Fools and Fiesta, we thought we'd end on a more serious note: The National Sexual Violence Resource center has named April Sexual Assault Awareness month. The Sex Crimes Unit of San Antonio Police Department is more than aware of sexual assault, and has recently taken steps to attempt to alleviate one of the more pernicious outcomes of sexual violence, the sexual assault cold case. According to supporting documents City Council used last month to authorize SAPD to pursue a National Institute of Justice grant to fund DNA analysis on cold cases, San Antonio currently has 5,200 sexual assault cold cases. That's 5,200 cases in which someone complained of a sexual assault, cooperated with investigators and saw the case closed, after 45 days, because the Sex Crimes Unit had "exhausted all investigative leads" according to a spokesman for the San Antonio Police Department. That's not at all uncommon for this type of crime, says Tory Camp of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. Camp says there are two types of sexual assault, that where the attacker is known and that where the identity is unknown. Situation A, the much more common one, can go cold because the alleged atacker claims it didn't happen or claims the sexual contact was consensual and there's little evidence to support the victim's side of the story. In Situation B, investigators simply fail to find the attacker whatsoever. Camp says in both situations witnesses are rare and receiving a Sexual Assault Nurses Evaluation (the SANE test) withing 96 hours is crucial. Many sexual assault allegations don't make it to the prosecution stage, handled here through the Bexar County District Attorney's office, says Camp, and only 20 percent of rapes are ever reported to law enforcement nationally.
The National Institute of Justice, part of the federal Department of Justice, believes investing in DNA analysis can help solve not only homicides (of which San Antonio has 1,200 on their books), but also violent sexual assaults. The NIJ writes in their grant solicitation, "Experience has shown that cold case programs can solve a substantial number of violent crime cold cases, including homicides and sexual assaults. Advances in DNA technologies have substantially increased the successful DNA analysis of aged, degraded, limited, or otherwise compromised biological evidence." Nothing puts the he said/she said argument to rest like a conclusive DNA sample. The SAPD would use the $800,000 grant to fund overtime for detectives analyzing and investigating the cold case backlog, forensics experts to assist both Homicide and Sex Crimes investigators and DNA testing fees. As it stands, homicide has two full-time detectives dedicated to cold cases, while Sex Crimes assigns cold cases to its 38 detectives "on an available basis" according to the City Council document. The same document estimated each detective works on 15 felony sexual assault cases per month, leaving QueQue to infer the detectives log few idle hours to devote to cold cases. We asked if the many cold cases in Sex Crimes could mean the department was understaffed, but SAPD asked to defer that answer until a commissioned staffing study was completed. The department will learn if they've received the grant later in the year, likely in June when the NIJ archives the grant solicitation (applications closed March 12).
Meanwhile, don't hesitate to get help if you think you're the victim of rape or sexual assault. Call the local Rape Crisis Center hotline at 210-349-7273 or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE. As evidenced by the sad sexual assault cold case numbers, in these investigations, time is of the essence.

Posted by Callie Enlow on 4/26/2010 8:32:12 PM
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