Report: backlog of 3,700 untested rape kits are a result of inconsistant policies across the state

Posted at 6:24 PM, Jan 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-05 11:42:34-05

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office released a report taking a closer look at how law enforcement agencies across the state deal with sexual assault evidence kits and outlined recommendations to better protect victims.

The 25-page document stems from a 2016 law requiring agencies to audit their untested rape kits, and for the AG's office to propose policies.         

RELATED: New data shows thousands of rape kits in Maryland have not been tested

One-hundred and two departments took part in the survey, revealing more than 3,700 evidence kits have gone untested in Maryland.

"I think it's important for victims of sexual assault to know the way that their cases are going to be handled," said Carrie Williams, division chief of criminal appeals division of the Maryland Office of the Attorney General.

Back in October, police and prosecutors told ABC2 News the high numbers of untested kits were due to backlogs in crime labs, and high costs.

"Resources are probably at the top of the list as to being one of the testing obstacles," Steven O’Dell, chief of forensic sciences and evidence management for the Baltimore City Police Department said at the time.

Yet, the report found, that's not actually the case.

"What we have, rather, is a number of kits that were determined by the law enforcement agencies not to qualify for testing for a number of different policy reasons," said Williams.

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The lack of statewide guidelines means departments have adopted inconsistent policies for when to test rape kits, when to notify victims, and how long to store the evidence.  Some agencies hold onto the collected samples forever, while others throw them out.

"It's always better when there is a uniform policy across the state that can be looked to so a victim knows exactly what's going to happen," Williams said.          

The Attorney General's Office submitted a list of nine recommendations to the General Assembly to get every jurisdiction on the same page. The proposals include testing nearly all rape kits collected by police, establishing a fixed amount of time that samples should be stored, and creating victim notification requirements.

"We recommend that investigators be required to contact victims when their test is submitted, and contact them with the results of that test," Williams said.

Advocates say this is a great step forward for survivors of rape, and the changed could have an impact on public safety.           

"If we look at all these different profiles, we’re going to catch more serial rapists and we'll really be safer as a community," said executive director for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Lisae Jordan.  “I think that Maryland is way behind the times in terms of their rape laws, but across the country the issue of rape kits and testing old kits is something that people have really been looking at the past few years."

The Baltimore County Police Department was one that came under fire in the fall, and in the last few months, multiple changes have been made to better protect victims. The department has always stored evidence kits for first-degree rape and first-degree sexual assaults indefinitely. Now kits for all rapes and sexual assaults will be kept forever regardless of the degree.

"You may have a victim that comes back three years later and now decides I am ready to peruse this case, they may not have been initially for one reason or another, and I want to be in a position to present the very best case as can as we move forward," said Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson.

"We are now requiring that the detective and the Specialized Sexual Assault Team to interview a victim as well as any alleged suspects, so that you have a second police officer who’s trained in these details looking more closely," said Baltimore County executive Kevin Kamenetz.

Kamenetz also says he's behind the idea of creating statewide guidelines for handling rape kits. 

The General Assembly gets back to work next week, and the next step is for the Attorney General's Office recommendations to become legislation.

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