The formidable rape kit backlog has been making news for several years. There are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits in crime facilities around the country, just sitting in storage while the rapists those kits could have helped convict walk the streets. Many jurisdictions have no policies that require the testing of all collected kits, and even in cases where investigators request that a rape kit be tested, the kits can sit for months or even years before labs can review them.
The role these kits play in bringing justice to rape survivors and putting rapists in jail is crucial. In places such as New York City where the police took action to eliminate the backlog, the arrest rate for rape jumped from 40 percent to 70 percent. In October 2000, the city had 16,000 untested kits, but when the city decided to spend $12 million having the kits tested, it led to more than 200 arrests.
Houston, Texas is the latest city to attack the problem, unveiling a detailed plan last week to eliminate their backlog of untested kits. Mayor Annise Parker announced the Southern city’s pile of 6,600 untested sexual assault kits will be gone in 14 months, since Houston will spend $4.4 million in grant funding to have them tested at two private labs. Both of the forensic facilities chosen have already built a reputation for other large backlog projects in New York City and Los Angeles.
It looks like the next major U.S. city to do something about the backlog issue could be Detroit. The city’s new police chief said Friday that he vows to test every sexual assault kit and gradually reduce Detroit’s backlog of over 10,000 kits. There still remain at least 10 other metropolitan areas across the United States with mountainous backlogs including Cincinnati, Phoenix and Chicago.