AUSTIN, Texas -- Austin's interim police chief is adding more staff to the department's sexual assault unit. Chief Brian Manley wants the DNA lab's massive backlog to be a thing of the past.
At the backlog's peak, Austin Police had more than 3,000 DNA kits waiting to be tested. They were from a variety of cases, but many stemmed from sexual assaults.
"I believe the earliest one may be from 1991," Manley said.
With help from a variety of grants and city spending, 1,500 of those cases are being tested at labs across the country. However, new cases continue to arrive at a rate of about one a day.
We are now starting to get the results back," Manley said. "We have a sex crimes investigations unit that is suffering with a very high case load. To bring in these additional cases that we are now getting results on from the backlog and expect that same group to work those we realized was not going to be handled in a timely manner."
As a result, he's creating a Sexual Assault Cold Case Unit. They include two officers who were assigned to park patrol and two detectives from APD's Organized Crime Unit.
That loss from Organized Crime concerns The SAFE Alliance, which handles sexual assault exams and counseling for rape survivors.
"If detectives, are being pulled out of those units, we certainly hope they continue to get the resources they need in addition to the Cold Case Unit," Aja Gair said.
Manley said he was meticulous in reassigning the officers to the unit, so it would create the smallest impact.
"They are a large enough unit that I believe they will be able to absorb the loss and still maintain operations, but that is something we will pay attention to," he said.
For several years, Gair and her team have told survivors of sexual assault they don't know when their kits will be tested and advance through the criminal justice process. She hopes this is a turning point.
"Hopefully it will help instill trust in this process and that there is a renewed commitment to survivors," Gair said.
Manley said some older cases may be affected due to poor storage techniques by APD and its shuttered DNA Lab. He plans to keep the Sexual Assault Cold Case Unit in place for the foreseeable future to ensure the backlog is cleared and remains cleared.