Adam Edelen says 3,090 sexual assault kits untested in state; calls for reforms and more funding
09/21/2015 05:54 PM
FRANKFORT – State Auditor Adam Edelen announced on Monday that 3,090 untested sexual assault evidence kits exist in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and pledged to assist in repairing a “broken system” which brings no justice to victims, jeopardizes public safety and cripples to criminal justice system.
The report was the result of Senate Joint Resolution 20, passed during the 2015 General Assembly, which called on Edelen to count the untested sexual assault kits in Kentucky.
1,859 untested sexual assault kits were found in the possession of 87 police departments and sheriff’s offices while another 1,231 untested kits were found at the Kentucky State Police Forensic Laboratory. Louisville Metro Police Department led the state with 1,320 untested kits, followed by Lexington with 315 and Newport with 163.
The untested kits will be analyzed as part of a $1.9 million grant Kentucky State Police received from the Manhattan (NYC) District Attorney’s Office.
Edelen said that it’s important for the victims and public safety to have each and every kit analyzed.
“When you are able to leverage the resources to clean up that backlog, the net result is that people who are walking the streets who think that they have gotten away with this crime end up being held to justice,” Edelen said.
Edelen found a number of problems that have led to fewer kits being submitted by law enforcement agencies to the KSP Forensic Laboratory to be tested.
“Approximately 41 percent of law enforcement agencies reported that they do not submit all kits for analysis, and most agencies reported that they lack clear policies for handling sexual assault kits,” Edelen said.
Auditor Edelen recommended that law enforcement be required to submit nearly all sexual assault kits within 10 days of booking them into evidence and that the lab is required to test those kits within 90 days of receipt.
He also recommended more training for law enforcement agencies and requires those agencies to adopt policies for dealing with sexual assaults.
“What we have to come up with is a system that makes it better and easier for them to do their job, that makes it easier to pursue justice on behalf of victims, that brings peace to victims, and justice to perpetrators,” Edelen said.
As for the Forensic Laboratory, auditors found that limited resources, state budget cuts and recruitment and retention issues are key factors contributing to long turnaround times. Edelen wants to see the Forensic Laboratory take steps to become more efficient and wants to see the legislature increase funding at the laboratory, which also involves increasing salaries to retain its best employees.
“We’ve got to get away from a culture that says it makes sense to pay folks with a biology degree $32,000 to work in the lab,” Edelen said. “At that point they get an investment in training that is worth $100,000 at least, in coming from the taxpayers, and often they’re lured to private laboratories or other states where they can make significantly more.”
The Auditor also heard concerns that there aren’t enough Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) in Kentucky, which resulted in troubling experiences at some hospitals in the state. Currently, Kentucky has 249 certified SANE nurses, but advocates say many of them are not currently practicing.
“We don’t have enough people making sure that base level of care is performed with compassion and commitment on the front end,” he said.
Edelen would like to see a $3 to $5 million dollar commitment from the state legislature for the first year in the next legislative session and $2 million a year in recurring costs.
“There is not a politician in this town or any other that can claim to be tough on crime without fully funding the state crime lab,” Edelen said.
Edelen is hopeful that the changes will benefit all victims, including ones who have not come forward to report their assaults because the process is so flawed.
“We know that in this system, that when there are fits and starts in the process, when there are needless breaks, when there are elements of it that take far too much time, we lose victims in the process,” Edelen said. “And I think what we have to build in its place is a system and a process that recognizes the fragility of the victims.”
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