Victoria Talbot | Ventura County Star

U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley came to the Ventura County Government Center Thursday morning with a $950,000 check to help local law enforcement agencies investigate backlogged violent and sexual assault cases using DNA technology.

The funds come on top of a recent $2.5 million federal grant that, in February, spurred the creation of the county’s first-ever cold case unit for sexual assaults. The additional $950,000 represented by Thursday’s check will expand that unit, a joint effort of the Ventura County Sheriff’s and District Attorney’s offices.

“This funding is critical for law enforcement efforts in this county to bring criminals to justice, put violent criminals behind bars and bring closure to families,” said Brownley, the Democrat who currently represents much of Ventura County. “I know the sheriff and the DA will put this to good use.”

Sheriff Bill Ayub, District Attorney Erik Nasarenko and Ventura County Supervisor Carmen Ramirez were on hand for the presentation. The oversize check was made out to the County of Ventura.

Nasarenko said the money will help resolve a backlog of more than 817 untested sexual assault kits.

Investigators are currently mapping out the inventory to identify how many are viable for criminal filings.

“We will then take the DNA and upload profiles to the state and local databases for solving crimes,” Nasarenko said.

DNA samples will be submitted to the Combined DNA Identification System, or CODIS, a network of state and federal databases operated by the FBI for crime scene profiles. 

Ayub thanked Brownley and county supervisors for supporting public safety improvements in Ventura County, which operates the only crime lab in the tr-counties area that includes Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. The crime lab is operated by the sheriff’s office and used by all Ventura County law enforcement agencies, including city police departments, for criminal investigations.

Expansion of the specialized cold-case unit is one of nine community projects around Ventura County — totaling more than $27 million — that Brownley saw included in the government funding package known as the Fiscal Year 2022 Consolidated Appropriations Act.

Other projects will benefit water infrastructure, higher education opportunities, flood-risk mitigation, beach and coastal erosion and dredging at the Ventura Harbor.

The separate $2.5 million grant that previously launched the cold-case unit came from the U.S. Department of Justice Sexual Assault Kit Initiative. The funds were part of a larger effort to clear a backlog of untested rape kits around the country. At the time, Nasarenko said the actual number of untested kits in Ventura County could be closer to 1,000.

This story originally appeared in Ventura County Star on April 14, 2022.