Last week, Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong announced that the agency has more than 12,000 untested rape kits sitting in storage facilities—about 4,000 more than previously reported—and that it will take more than $4 million to process them all.
The story is making headlines across the country. And it’s a familiar one. Detroit had over 11,000 untested rape kits. Houston had over 6,600. The day after we launched the new ENDTHEBACKLOG.org website, Las Vegas Police estimated that there were 4,000 untested kits in their storage facility. In Illinois, Texas, Colorado and Ohio, where legislation or policies have required law enforcement to count their backlogged kits, tens of thousands of untested rape kits have been uncovered.
Despite the injustice that these numbers represent, knowing them is actually a huge step in the right direction. In many cases, when backlogs have been uncovered—whether through the efforts of local officials, investigative reporters or human rights advocates—those cities and states have taken a deep look at why the backlog started in the first place and implemented procedures and protocols to ensure it does not happen again.
In Memphis, journalists first began investigating the backlog three years ago. Counting began at the urging of the City Council and after Mayor AC Wharton issued an Executive Order. The police department’s current plan, according to WREG, is to send 400 kits each month for testing.
“We’re the ones who are supposed to provide the protections for our citizens and we have failed at that,” said Councilwoman Wanda Halbert.
“If it takes all 109 prosecutors in this office to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to get these cases written up and prepared for grand jury, that’s what we will do,” said Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich.
To read more about the rape kit backlog in Memphis, click here.
Later this week, we’ll be sharing more about the numbers of untested rape kits—the widespread failure that they represent and why knowing them is often the first step in ending the backlog.
We invite you to explore the interactive backlog map to find information on the backlog across the country—including where you live—and to take action by calling on your elected officials for transparency and reform.
- By Lendon Ebbels