Portland Police Chief Larry O’Dea has apologized for the bureau’s failure to address its stockpile of untested sexual assault kits – the first time anyone from the agency or city has shown any public contrition for the problem.

O’Dea made the apology in a column Saturday following an investigation by The Oregonian/OregonLive that showed police supervisors had become aware of its stockpile in 2002 but failed to address it for 13 years despite repeated promises to do so.

O’Dea previously had distanced himself from the issue.

In written responses to emailed questions for the Sept. 13 story, O’Dea said he spent most of his career in police patrol operations and wasn’t familiar with the pledges made by earlier police leaders, but promised to address the untested kits moving forward.

“Sexual assault investigations are some of the most emotional and complex cases we undertake,” he wrote then. “We are striving to be a leader in this country on the development of sound policy and investigative practices.”

He went a step further in his guest opinion column for The Oregonian/OregonLive.

In the last paragraph, he wrote:

“Sexual assault investigations are some of the most emotional and complex cases we undertake. We believe that the standard in our profession nationwide needs to be one of testing all SAFE kits. The Portland Police Bureau is working hard to help promote this standard. It is important to acknowledge and apologize for the lack of a change in policy regarding testing of SAFE kits by past leadership, as well as stating our commitment to resolving this issue going forward.”

On Monday, O’Dea explained that he was struck by the reprint of a 2002 Oregonian story in which then-Detective Division Cmdr. Jim Ferraris had promised a change in bureau policy to ensure that the more than 1,000 untested sexual assaults discovered that year got analyzed at a crime lab.

“That didn’t happen. For that, as head of the organization now, it is important for me to both acknowledge and to apologize to the community,” O’Dea said.

He had been told about Ferraris’ comments when he was asked to comment for the Sept. 13 story.

“It is also important to me that we pledge to keep the community informed on our progress going forward so that there is no worry that we aren’t fulfilling our promise now,” O’Dea added Monday.

The city recently was awarded a $1.2 million federal grant to send most of its 2,408 untested kits to a private lab and create a database to better track the kits and their testing. Multnomah County also received $2 million from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to help get untested kits in Portland, and in Lane and Marion counties sent to a private lab for DNA analysis.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales has called the “past practice unacceptable” to him and the chief.  In an interview, Hales pointed out that he was not mayor when the problem developed, but was serving as mayor when the bureau began to address it.

— Maxine Bernstein


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