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Louisville Lawmaker Crafting Bill To Address Untested Rape Kits

Kentucky state Capitol
Kentucky state Capitol

A Louisville lawmaker says she is crafting legislation that would help curb the state’s backlog of untested rape kits and reform the system of reporting the kits.

Sen. Denise Harper-Angel, a Democrat from Louisville, introduced the bill that required state Auditor Adam Edelen to tally up the total number of untested rape kits in the state. Edelen released a report Monday that revealed more than 3,000 are sitting untested in Kentucky’s state and local law enforcement offices.

The report partly blames the problem on a lack of funding for the Kentucky State Police Forensics Lab, which conducts the DNA testing of kits.

Harper-Angel said she’s working on legislation to ensure the swift and proper handling of the kits.

“I’m going to fight hard for additional funding for KSP and the crime lab,” said Harper-Angel, who sits on the Senate’s appropriations committee. “I’m going to rely on many of the recommendations in the report.”

Edelen's report detailed local law enforcement agencies routinely failing to send along rape kits to the state forensics lab. In the report, he proposed requiring local law enforcement agencies to submit rape kits within 10 days of receiving them. He also recommended requiring the state forensics lab to test the kits within 90 days.

Harper-Angel said those time-frames sounded “reasonable.”

“Yes, particularly with the proper funding, it sounds very reasonable," she said. "And I’m going to look at what other states have done as well."

There is no law requiring local police agencies to submit rape kits to the state crime lab. The state lab can submit DNA evidence to the FBI’s national database, which can match DNA profiles to identify an attacker or link an attacker to previous crimes.

The report also says the crime lab encouraged local law enforcement to “triage” rape kits and not “overload” the system with too much evidence, leaving kits to sit on the shelves for years.

“I think there are cases when there’s evidence that probably, in a perfect world, definitely should have been sent on that weren’t processed because they themselves didn’t want to make it more difficult for the crime lab to do their job,” Edelen said.

Kentucky State Police did not respond to interview requests on Monday.

Edelen said more funding for the KSP's forensics lab would help, but that alone wouldn't solve the problems his office found.

“We have allowed the scarcity culture to drive too much of what we’ve done in state government for the last several years. And we can’t use a lack of funding as an excuse for not getting things done,” Edelen said.

While there were 1,231 untested rape kits at the KSP's lab, there were 1,859 among 87 police departments and sheriffs’ offices across the state, according to the report.

Among that group, Louisville Metro Police  had the largest share, with 923 untested rape kits.

According to the report, LMPD blamed the backlog in part on the 2003 city-county merger, which combined police departments with different systems for tracking evidence and created a new system in their place. LMPD also told the auditor's office that in 2013, it found 300 rape kits that should have been tested in 2011 and 2012.

Lt. Carolyn Nunn, commander of the LMPD Special Victims Unit, said the department has submitted all rape kits with victim participation to the KSP since 2013. She said DNA testing improved significantly during the 1990s, and kits predating that change were not submitted for testing unless an arrest had been made.

An LMPD spokesman said nearly 200 of the city's untested kits date back to the 1980s and 1990s.

Nunn said it isn't clear how long it might take for LMPD to reduce its backlog.

"We are having to pull archived case files to review and to ensure that victims and offenders are still alive due to the age of some cases, and to locate and speak to victims of cases that will be sent," she said.

Jacob Ryan contributed to this story.

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