Number of untested sexual assault kits in Kentucky, recommendations on crime lab backlog to be released soon

08/30/2015 05:25 PM

Kentucky is about to get a clearer picture of its DNA testing backlog, an issue that has seized the attention of policymakers and law enforcement across the country as similar counts have yielded thousands of unprocessed sexual assault kits.

Auditor Adam Edelen is winding down his review of the state’s unprocessed sexual assault examination kits, a report of which must be made to legislative leaders by Nov. 1 as required by Senate Joint Resolution 20.

When he launched the effort in April, Edelen estimated that hundreds, if not thousands of unprocessed sexual assault kits had yet to be sent to already backlogged Kentucky State Police crime labs. The agency has said each kit requires six to nine months to process.

“We are now drafting the report and putting a good polish on our recommendations, and my guess is within the next month for sure we’ll make the findings of this very important investigation available to the public and policymakers as a starting point for doing a couple of things,” Edelen said at Thursday’s Kentucky Farm Bureau ham breakfast.

The first step, he said, is releasing a final count of untested kits and pushing for assistance from Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. Next, providing recommendations to ensure that “we don’t ever create a backlog like the one we’ve got again,” he said.

Edelen declined to say whether the number of untested sexual assault kits exceeded his expectation.

“I just want to say that the number is what it is,” he said. “Any number of backlogged kits is something that’s stomach-churning, and what it proves is we’ve got some work to do in front of us to improve the system. We need to make it work better for law enforcement and prosecutors and victims and their advocates and make it work a lot more effectively to bring justice to perpetrators.”

Detroit’s backlog of more than 11,000 untested rape kits in 2009 provided a high-profile introduction to the issue, with efforts to resolve the logjam yielding nearly 2,500 DNA matches and 469 potential serial rapists, according to the advocacy group End The Backlog.

Other states and cities have taken similar looks at untested sexual assault kits. In July, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported that Memphis police arrested a man in a 15-year-old rape case linked to one of the city’s 6,286 untested rape kits that were sent to crime labs. More than twelve thousand untested kits were found in the city’s possession, according to the report.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell played a key role in navigating a reauthorization of the Debbie Smith Act, anti-rape legislation that in part provide grants to fund sexual assault kit examinations, last year. Congress also included an extra $41 million in the federal budget to address untested DNA kits.

“What we’ve tried to do is provide additional funding,” McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday at the ham breakfast. “There are a lot of those rape kits that have not been examined. This is really outrageous, and I think we need to come up to speed as rapidly as we can.”

Part of Edelen’s recommendations will include securing additional funding for the KSP crime labs’ backlogs.

“I think we’ll be able to get federal dollars to be able to do it, but moving forward policymakers, particularly in the legislature, will have to make important decisions in this budget session about the degree to which we really value being tough on crime,” Edelen said.

He has a prominent ally on the federal side of the issue in McConnell, which Edelen says demonstrates the bipartisan focus on resolving the backlog of unprocessed rape kits.

“Certainly he ought to be applauded for working so hard to get the dollars into the federal budget that we’re going to be able to leverage,” Edelen said of McConnell.


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.