Stakeholders agree: Funding for KSP's central laboratory key to resolving backlog of untested rape kits

07/01/2015 07:07 PM

ELIZABETHTOWN — As about a dozen huddled around the conference table at Silverleaf Sexual Trauma Recovery Services to discuss the backlog of untested sexual assault and rapes kits in Kentucky State Police’s possession on Wednesday, one point repeatedly came up: KSP needs more resources for its central crime laboratory.

State Auditor Adam Edelen conducted his office’s fourth stakeholder meeting in conjunction with the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs as his office continues its review of untested rape kits, which may number in the thousands in Kentucky. Law enforcement officers, prosecutors and those who provide support for victims of sex crimes all shared their frustrations with waiting for the results of a sexual assault kit from the KSP lab.

Assistant Hardin County Commonwealth’s Attorney Teresa Logsdon said she had to request a continuance in a case involving a man accused of impregnating a 13-year-old while awaiting the results of a paternity test.

He was ultimately sentenced to life in prison, but Logsdon says she faces a similar dilemma now in a case that’s set for trial in September. The matter also involves a newborn and paternity tests, and she recently learned that processing the DNA swabs may take as long as a year to complete.

She and others referenced the impact the television series “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” has had the public’s expectations for thorough and, most importantly, speedy results in cases involving DNA.

“My officer got the swabs to the lab in April and they’re telling me now it’s going to be another nine to 12 months where it’s at in the process, and so I’m given options of maybe we can do a rush job, maybe we can’t, or maybe I have to go to court and go, ‘Sorry judge, I’ve got a problem,’ but I need that because the CSI effect is great,” she said.

“I’ve run up against it whether it’s a rape case where I might have actual good forensic evidence like the cases I’m talking about or the fact that I may have none in a case where we’re talking about sexual abuse and touching because laypersons still want to see something, and there are cases I can’t give it to them.”

She and others suggested additional resources for KSP’s central lab, particularly its staff. Some said additional workers could help alleviate some of the backlog in untested rape kits while Sgt. Mark Gillingham of KSP Post 4 in Elizabethtown said more money could keep some KSP lab workers from seeking employment in the private sector.

“They haven’t gotten raises for state employees in how long?” he asked. “They’re leaving and going to the private sector where they can make more money.”

Delays in prosecuting crimes of a sexual nature can cause victims to stop the judicial process, either by dropping the charges or recanting their statements.

Nikki Ellis, executive director of Silverleaf Sexual Trauma Recovery Services, said victims who seek counseling or other services offered at her center typically continue to cooperate with prosecutors. Those who don’t, however, are more likely to walk away from the process within three to six months, she said.

“They’re finally going to say, ‘Forget this. It’s taken entirely too long,’ or, ‘Somebody doesn’t believe me. That’s why it’s not being processed,’” Ellis said. “And so eventually they just say, ‘Just forget it.’”

Edelen referenced financial issues with KSP’s crime lab, saying the public will know how such underfunding has impacted public safety in Kentucky.

But other government services like education, public employee pensions and Medicaid will be jockeying for those same scarce resources in the upcoming biennial budget cycle. That didn’t deter Edelen when asked after the meeting how KSP’s crime lab compared to other spending priorities facing the General Assembly next session.

“Moving forward, your budget ought to reflect you priorities, and I can’t think of a priority more important to the quality of life of Kentuckians, whether they live in cities or small towns or rural areas, than the public safety,” Edelen said.

He said he expects to offer proposals to fix the current system once work on the audit completes this fall, and he has already obtained untested rape kit surveys from all law enforcement agencies in the state.

Many of the grievances he heard on Wednesday match others aired in the previous three meetings with stakeholders in Owensboro, Paducah and Hebron, he said.

“The problem is the crime lab is understaffed and under-resourced, and this is beginning to have a real impact on public safety,” Edelen said, noting he hopes the legislature enacts reforms that not only clear the current backlog of untested rape kits, but also prevent future buildups in the crime lab.

“So going out, listening is an important part of being able to make recommendations that will help, particularly with sexual assaults, the system work better.”

Wednesday marked the fourth of 14 such meetings Edelen’s office has pscheduled throughout the state.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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