Testing Unprocessed Rape Kits is Public Safety Issue
Naples Daily News
September 23, 2015
As a career prosecutor and your Florida Attorney General, I understand how vital forensic evidence is in solving violent crimes and putting dangerous criminals behind bars.
That is why I am troubled by recent reports of the thousands of sexual assault kits that remain untested in Florida. These unprocessed kits hold key DNA evidence that could take dangerous rapists and murderers off our streets and put them behind bars where they belong.
I recently joined law enforcement officers, state lawmakers and victims’ advocates to commit broad support for testing these unprocessed sexual assault kits. For years our state crime labs have struggled to keep up with the extreme demand created by violent criminals, gangsters and synthetic drug pushers.
As I have discussed in multiple Florida Cabinet meetings, turnover in the state crime labs due to pay disparity across the state compounds this problem. While it is clear it will take more resources to address these problems, testing these unprocessed kits is a public safety issue that deserves our immediate attention.
As a state, we need to think more broadly about how forensic evidence can be used not only to solve crimes locally, but throughout the entire country. Processing these untested kits will allow key DNA evidence to be entered into state and federal crime databases. These entries can produce matches that could link criminals to unsolved crimes in Florida and beyond. In recent years, some states and law enforcement agencies have taken steps to eliminate their backlog of untested sexual assault kits, resulting in hundreds of arrests and prosecutions.
In Ohio, approximately 80 percent of the state’s untested sexual assault kits have been analyzed, resulting in 370 indictments in just one county alone. In Houston, Texas, the recent testing of unprocessed kits by law enforcement in that city is leading to dozens of new prosecutions. While the results of testing Florida’s unprocessed kits are still unknown, they are likely to be far-reaching.
Nationwide, there are believed to be hundreds of thousands of untested sexual assault kits. Thousands of those kits are located across Florida.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, in conjunction with local law enforcement agencies, is currently conducting a statewide assessment of unprocessed sexual assault kits to identify how many kits have not been tested.
Our goal of testing these unprocessed sexual assault kits is clear, and the benefit to the state and public safety is evident. The fact is, it will likely take years to achieve this goal but we cannot wait any longer to take action.
Every day that these kits remain untested is, perhaps, another day dozens of dangerous criminals continue to prey on innocent Floridians. It is another day that victims of sexual assault live in fear of being revictimized and with the knowledge that justice, in their case, was not served.
Testing these kits is just the first step. In the coming weeks, months and years, I will continue to work with law enforcement officers, state lawmakers, and victims’ advocates to not only test these unprocessed kits, but to find better ways to ensure our state has the lab capacity and resources needed to keep up with the demand for forensic testing.
We cannot put a price tag on public safety. We need to support FDLE in its efforts to make Florida the safest state in the country.