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Money for DPS to Help With Backlog of Rape Kits

Thousands of evidence kits collected from rape victims that have sat untested for years in Texas can now be analyzed, thanks to an $11 million budget appropriation earmarked for the Texas Department of Public Safety.


Thousands of evidence kits collected from rape victims that have sat untested for years in Texas can now be analyzed, thanks to an $11 million budget appropriation earmarked for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The line-item financing disbursement was passed as part of the state’s biennial budget during the regular 83rd legislative session. It follows the 2011 approval of related legislation filed by state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.

Senate Bill 1636 requires that the DPS or a contractor test and keep information on forensic sexual-assault evidence that the department has received from other law enforcement agencies but has not been submitted for analysis, provided financing is available.

SB 1636 also requires that when requested, the department compare results from a newly tested rape kit with DNA information in the department’s custody.

The number of untested kits is unclear. Advocacy groups say that about 16,000 kits are sitting on shelves, according to data submitted by 136 law enforcement agencies across the state. But the DPS estimates that the number is closer to 20,000. Department officials say their information comes from various law enforcement agencies, which may use different formulas to determine how many kits they have, thus leading to a discrepancy. 

The Number of Cases of Untested Rape Kits by Agency
Source: The Texas Department of Public Safety
AgencyEstimated No. of Untested Kits
Houston Police Department *6663
Dallas Police Department4144
San Antonio Police Department2077
Fort Worth Police Department1018
Amarillo Police Department950
Austin Police Department407
Travis Co. Sheriff's Office365
Killeen Police Department233
Corpus Christi Police Department207
Lubbock Police Department205
Midland Police Department197
Harker Heights Police Department152
San Angelo Police Department138
Copperas Cove113
Victoria Police Department107
McAllen Police Department102
Williamson County Sheriff's Office85
Conroe Police Department75
Pasadena Police Department67
Odessa Police Department60

* The Houston Police Department said it will conduct the testing of its 6,663 kits through a combination of outsourcing and in-house analysis.

The untested kits have collected in police evidence rooms amid tight budgets, overworked crime labs and, in some cases, the determination by some law enforcement agencies that there was insufficient cause to test a kit.

Tom Vinger, a department spokesman, said untested kits were not analyzed for several reasons, depending on what an individual law enforcement agency’s criteria were. The bill does not affect evidence gathered before September 1996.

The financing is a welcome start that will go a long way, supporters say.

“Without a doubt, there will be cases solved that were previously unsolved,” said Torie Camp, the deputy director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. “Ten to 30 percent will come back with a positive hit.”

A positive hit could lead to the identification of a person whose information is in the database or it could point to a specific suspect.

The DPS estimates that at least half the kits will yield evidence that could be used to solve crimes.

While the financing is a step toward resolution  for many victims of sexual assaults, Camp said it was only one part of the puzzle.

“We’re creating a new backlog of more cases,” she said. “The best way to say this is, this is just the first part of the backlog.”

Similar efforts have yielded positive results.

The Fort Worth Police Department received a grant in 2003 that allowed it to test unanalyzed rape kits. It yielded 214 matches in an FBI DNA database, resulting in the identification of three suspects who were later accused of being serial rapists, according to the Texas Senate Research Center.

 

 

The Number of Untested Rape Kits By DPS Lab Region
DPS Lab RegionEstimated No. of Untested Kits
Austin3176
Corpus Christi370
El Paso54
Garland3593
Houston6866
Lubbock1638
Weslaco129
Waco650

 

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/08/04/31-days-31-ways-rape-kits/.

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