A Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of the Number of Samples to Collect and Test From a Sexual Assault

A Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of the Number of Samples to Collect and Test From a Sexual Assault

By
Zhengli Wang, Kevin MacMillan, Mark Powell, Lawrence M. Wein
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. June
2020, Vol. 117, Issue 24, Pages 13,421–13,427

Although the backlog of untested sexual assault kits in the United States is starting to be addressed, many municipalities are opting for selective testing of samples within a kit, where only the most probative samples are tested. We use data from the San Francisco Police Department Criminalistics Laboratory, which tests all samples but also collects information on the samples flagged by sexual assault forensic examiners as most probative, to build a standard machine learning model that predicts (based on covariates gleaned from sexual assault kit questionnaires) which samples are most probative. This model is embedded within an optimization framework that selects which samples to test from each kit to maximize the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) yield (i.e., the number of kits that generate at least one DNA profile for the criminal DNA database) subject to a budget constraint. Our analysis predicts that, relative to a policy that tests only the samples deemed probative by the sexual assault forensic examiners, the proposed policy increases the CODIS yield by 45.4% without increasing the cost. Full testing of all samples has a slightly lower cost-effectiveness than the selective policy based on forensic examiners, but more than doubles the yield. In over half of the sexual assaults, a sample was not collected during the forensic medical exam from the body location deemed most probative by the machine learning model. Our results suggest that electronic forensic records coupled with machine learning and optimization models could enhance the effectiveness of criminal investigations of sexual assaults.