There has been a flurry of reports in the news recently about the steps several cities across the country have taken to eliminate their rape kit backlogs. These cities are in varying stages of analyzing their untested kits and re-engaging the survivors whose kits were part of the backlog. Two of the cities are located in states—Illinois and Texas—that have passed legislation requiring the testing of all rape kits booked into evidence. The others are located in Ohio, where the Attorney General has encouraged law enforcement agencies to test all kits.
Here are a few highlights of their progress:
CBS Chicago reports that police in Robbins, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, recently discovered 51 rape kits that had never been sent for testing. Some of the kits dated as far back as 1986. The Cook County Sheriff’s Office is now working to process this backlog because Robbins lacks the resources to do so.
According to the Robbins Police Department, they did not test the kits because the victims either recanted or declined to press charges. This is difficult to verify, however, because a flood in the basement of the Department destroyed the statements that would normally accompany the kits. That being the case, the Sheriff’s Office will process all 51 kits.
In a press conference, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said a rape kit examination “is incredibly difficult and traumatic for a woman to go through, and it’s rare someone would go through with it and not want to pursue a criminal case.” He added, “The victims should know they will have their cases heard, and they will be treated like they should have been treated. My goal is to bring justice to these folks.” Sheriff Dart’s office has been assisting Robbins with patrols and investigations in recent weeks, which led to the discovery of the untested kits.
As we reported previously, state officials made a similar discovery in Harvey, a neighboring suburb, in 2007. In a raid on the Harvey Police Department, officials uncovered 200 untested rape kits. In 2010, Illinois became the first state to pass legislation requiring the tracking and testing of all rape kits.
Houston’s Mayor Annise Parker has announced the city’s plan to eliminate its backlog of more than 6,600 untested rape kits within 14 months. The Houston Chronicle reports that it will cost Houston $4.4 million to outsource the kits to two private labs for testing. Funding will come from $2.2 million in federal grants and $2.2 million in the city’s current budget.
While it typically costs approximately $1,200 to outsource just one rape kit, the labs have offered a price of $400 per kit given the large volume of kits they will receive. With the backlogged kits, the city will also send 1,450 kits from active rape cases, 1,020 DNA samples from other crimes and an estimated 1,000 rape kits that will be collected over the next year, for a total of 10,130.
Texas was the second state to require that law enforcement agencies test every rape kit booked into evidence. Houston, which received a National Institute of Justice action-research grant, along with Detroit, to study the causes of its backlog, has its own policy of testing every kit. This policy came about because of the ability of rape kit evidence to link perpetrators to other crimes and to honor survivors’ courageous decision to undergo a rape kit exam and report the crime.
Law enforcement agencies from across the state of Ohio recently sent more than 2,300 untested rape kits to a state crime lab for analysis. Almost half of the untested kits came from the Cleveland Police. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, when all of the recently submitted kits are tested, law enforcement could have an estimated 850 cases resulting from DNA database matches.
While Ohio has not passed legislation requiring the testing of all rape kits, in late 2011, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine adopted a policy encouraging all law enforcement agencies to clear their backlogs. His office hired additional crime lab staff to handle the influx of evidence.
Cleveland alone discovered that it had more than 3,700 untested kits dating as far back as 1991. To date, the city has submitted 1,073 kits to the lab. The Toledo Police Department has sent 215 kits, and Akron has sent more than 300 kits, dating as far back as 1994. The crime lab is testing up to 100 kits per month, starting with the oldest first.
Of the kits tested so far, 103 contained useable DNA evidence, and 65 matched to DNA profiles in CODIS. Thirty-six of the cases with matches originated in Cleveland, and those matches have confirmed the identity of 11 suspects, identified potential suspects in 21 cases and identified a possible serial rapist.
Police officials in Cleveland, as well as Toledo and Akron, have expressed their commitment to following up on and investigating the leads that result from clearing their backlogs. Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath plans to add two more detectives to the Sex Crimes & Child Abuse unit and seek assistance from the FBI, if necessary. He said, “I wouldn’t send these kits if I wasn’t going to follow up on them.” Deputy Chief Ed Tomba added that their primary concern is locating survivors and responding to the varied reactions they will have upon learning of new leads in their cases.