In 2008, the City of Detroit shut down its police crime lab after an audit found significant errors in the evaluation of evidence. Following the closure, in 2009, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office discovered approximately 11,304 untested rape kits sitting in a Detroit Police Department storage facility. The rape kit backlog in Detroit represents one of the largest known backlogs in a city in the United States.
Since then, Detroit has been able to begin eliminating that backlog with a deeply committed group of community partners and funding from various sources.
The Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women awarded the city a grant in early 2010 to test a randomly selected sample of 400 backlogged kits in order to predict outcomes for the larger backlog. In April 2011, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) awarded the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office an action research grant to convene a multidisciplinary team to study the causes of the backlog and develop and implement a plan for testing. The team is made up of prosecutors, members of law enforcement, researchers, city officials and advocates, including Joyful Heart.
Under the NIJ project, Detroit had enough funding to process 1,600 untested kits. The team sent them for analysis in four waves:
- "Stranger" cases
- "Non-stranger" cases
- Pre-2002 cases on which the statute of limitations might have expired
- Randomly selected cases for a new method of testing for comparison with traditional testing methods.
Among those first 1,600 kits tested, there were 455 hits in the DNA database, including hits linking to crimes committed in 21 other states and the District of Columbia. The Prosecutor’s Office identified 87 potential serial rapists and obtained five convictions.
Members of the general public have contributed more than $150,000 in donations to Detroit’s efforts to clear the backlog through a fund established by the Detroit Crime Commission. For the state’s part, Michigan’s governor announced in June 2013 that the state would dedicate $4 million in legal settlement funds toward testing the kits remaining in Detroit’s backlog. With private crime labs offering to test the majority of those kits at a discounted rate, it is likely that this funding will help to eliminate the backlog entirely. The Prosecutor’s Office remains committed to expanding its capacity to be able to investigate leads and move cases forward to prosecution.
Learn more about Detroit's reforms and read about its efforts in the media here.