Along with Detroit, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) awarded Houston an action-research grant in 2011 to study the causes of the backlog and develop and implement a plan for testing. A recent audit had uncovered more than 6,600 untested rape kits—some dating back to the 1980s—in the Houston Police Department’s property division.
In February 2013, Houston’s Mayor Annise Parker announced that City Council had approved a plan to eliminate the city’s backlog of 6,663 untested rape kits entirely within 14 months. Officials estimated it would cost the city $4.4 million to outsource the kits to two private labs for testing. Funding would 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 private labs offered a discounted price of $400 per kit given the large volume of kits they would receive. Along with the backlogged kits, the city would also send 1,450 kits from active rape cases, 1,020 DNA samples from other crimes and an estimated 1,000 rape kits that would be collected over the next year, for a total of 10,130.
As of August 2013, the Houston Police Department (HPD) had submitted every backlogged kit for testing. The multidisciplinary team working on the NIJ project also developed a protocol for notifying survivors that their kits were part of the backlog, including a hotline survivors can call for more information. HPD is encouraging survivors of both backlogged and new cases to contact the sexual assault information line at (713) 308-1400, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Houston Chronicle reported in January 2014 that the two private labs had received 9,500 cases and completed testing in nearly 6,200. As of October 2014, testing resulted in 1,031 matches in the DNA database and 19 indictments, which included 10 suspects identified and arrested for the first time.
In February 2015, Houston officials reported that they had completed testing their entire backlog of 6,663 previously untested kits. The $4.4M effort was funded by federal grant money and city funding, and has yielded 850 matches in CODIS and the prosecution of 29 offenders thus far.
Learn more about Houston's reforms and read about its efforts in the media here.