Estimating crime laboratory efficiency in the testing of sexual assault kits
Strom, K. J., Hendrix, J. A., Parish, W. J., Melton, P. A., & Feeney, H. (2020). Estimating crime laboratory efficiency in the testing of sexual assault kits. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 65(5), 1497-1506. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1111/1556-4029.14490
Over the past decade, the large numbers of untested sexual assault kits (SAKs) have been highlighted as a systematic problem that jeopardizes or delays justice for victims. Considering the benefits of testing SAKs, researchers have worked to shed light on why sexual assault evidence has not been effectively submitted to and processed by crime laboratories. Missing from this discourse has been an understanding of the types of practices or qualities that encourage efficiency in the testing of SAKs in crime laboratories. We analyzed results of a national survey administered to all publicly funded state and local crime laboratories (N = 132 respondents) to provide critical information about (i) the extent to which laboratories are testing all of the SAKs possible given the resources they have available; and (ii) the impact that staffing, equipment, policies, and other practices have on SAK testing efficiency. We find that the average laboratory tests only about 69% of the SAKs possible given the resources available to them. However, although technical inefficiencies explain a large proportion of the number of untested SAKs, the accumulation of untested SAKs must also be attributed to laboratories having insufficient resources (e.g., too few forensic analysts). Moreover, results from stochastic frontier models show that doubling the number of forensic analysts in the typical laboratory would allow them to expand their SAK testing capacity by nearly 50%. Implications of these findings are discussed as they relate to the prioritization of resources for crime laboratories, which often operate under strict budgetary realities.