The Bexar County Criminal Investigation Laboratory will now be able to process rape kits faster and more effectively following a recent $167,000 investment, officials announced Monday.

In June, Bexar County used the funds to buy new equipment, which has improved the capacity and processing time for sexual assault kits, according to officials. These kits are typically collected by a sexual assault nurse examiner following the immediate outcry of a survivor.

The new process is not only faster, it’s also more reliable, said Erin Reat, assistant crime lab director.

“Essentially, the county provided us the funds to be able to purchase new equipment that allows us to automate the DNA extraction process,” Reat said. “In the past, we’d do a conventional screening where we do chemical analysis. … What we’re doing now is bypassing that screening process and treating [each kit item] as though it does have [a] sperm [sample].”

This new process will allow the lab to file a single report per case rather than filing a report after the screening process and then again after the DNA comparison process, Reat said. The funding for the new equipment came from the county’s general 2021-2022 budget, according to a press release from the county.

This machine, purchased with the new funding, not only assists with the extraction of the DNA, but also can process multiple samples at once.
Bexar County’s crime lab is now able to process about four rape kits a day thanks to new equipment purchased with county funding. Credit: Courtesy / Bexar County

Orin Dym, the lab’s director, called this streamlining “an important and significant step forward” toward improving the number of kits the lab can process and reducing the waiting period for investigators “without jeopardizing the scientific quality of our analysis.”

Previously, scientists were able to process about one kit per day, Reat said. Now, they can process about four per day, which is what the new equipment can handle, he said.

“By automating that extraction procedure rather than processing one at a time, we can batch these cases rather than singling them out,” he said. “[This allows us] to get results in a much faster manner.”

Prior to implementing this new process, the county’s backlog of kits had been increasing, Reat said. Now, the county is more able to keep up with the number of kits coming in each day, he said.

Because the new method also skips the screening steps, Reat said there’s less room for human error to be introduced into the process. He called the new process is “extremely clean,” saying it can give scientists amazingly clear results.

The next step will be to hire additional staff that can help process more kits, as well, he said.

“It does appear this is definitely moving in the right direction,” Reat said.

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.