Ohio Attorney General Recommends New Policy for Testing Rape Kits

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced last Monday that a new unit at the state’s crime lab will handle backlogged rape kits. Four newly hired forensic scientists will staff the new unit and are expected to process 1,500 cases in their first year and double that amount in subsequent years.

An eleven-member commission that the Attorney General’s Office convened also recommended a new policy that law enforcement agencies submit any untested kits to a state lab regardless of whether a decision has been made to prosecute. Previously, there had been no policy on submitting rape kits. According to the policy, these developments will ensure the entry of offender DNA into police databases.

Attorney General DeWine expects the amount of kits sent to Ohio crime labs will increase from 50 percent to 90 percent. He said:

“We want to assure victims of sexual assault their cases will not be forgotten. We are determined to bring these rapists to justice.”

While the extent of Ohio’s rape kit backlog is unknown, the attorney general’s office reported it has received 2,000 backlogged cases just from Cuyahoga County so far, which includes Cleveland. Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) currently tests 1,000 rape kits per year and expects that number to rise to 1,500 in the first year after the hiring of the new forensic scientists and 3,000 kits the following year. BCI is prepared to commit “whatever resources are necessary” to process additional kits.

Attorney General DeWine has explained, “The new policy is fairly simple: if a crime was committed, the kit should be submitted. If a crime probably occurred, law enforcement should submit the kit for testing.”

Cathy Harper Lee, Executive Director of The Justice League of Ohio and member of the attorney general’s commission, adds:

“When we have a victim report to us, and we feel there is substantial evidence that a crime occurred and we’ve seen a kit that’s not being processed…there is tremendous concern that the victim is not getting justice, and the offender is staying in the community to commit more crimes.”

In addition to the new testing policy, the attorney general’s office announced that the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA) will enhance its current sexual assault training courses to emphasize law enforcement interaction with survivors, advocates and medical personnel. In partnership with the Attorney General’s Crime Victim Section, OPOTA will also produce an online course “to bring victim-focused training to every officer in Ohio” at anytime and free of charge.

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