Auditor General: Number of untested rape kits in Pennsylvania decreased by nearly 90%
The number of untested rape kits in Pennsylvania has dropped dramatically, from more than 3,200to 339 in the last three years, according to state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.
Across the state, sexual assault evidence kits have been a focus recently of forensic scientists who examine them for details police can use in an investigation.
By the end of last year, there were no backlogged kits at all six of the state police crime labs, including one in Hempfield, or at the Philadelphia police forensic unit.
There were still 94 kits awaiting testing at the forensic crime lab run by the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office, DePasquale said.
“Some of these labs … are working to expand their crime lab because they did not have enough space to actually deal with the tremendous work that they had before them,” he said during a news conference Thursday.
DePasquale began tackling the issue in 2016 when he released a report about backlogged kits across the state. He cited several issues, including lack of resources, as reasons behind the figures.
A kit is considered to be backlogged when a year has elapsed without a forensic examination.
In addition to the kits waiting to be tested in Allegheny County, 245 kits at municipal police departments have yet to be examined, he said. As of April 2018, McKees Rocks police had three backlogged kits and Rostraver Township police had four that had not been tested, according to a state health department study.
The study includes data from 1,037 law enforcement agencies that responded.
Allegheny County has worked its way down from a backlog of 206 kits last April.
“Ninety-four is too many, but that is tremendous progress from where we were just two short years ago,” DePasquale said.
Officials are looking into a way for victims to track their kits. Idaho State Police have created computer software that allows victims to see where in the process their kit is, from the hospital to a lab. The mechanism is being offered to Pennsylvania for free, DePasquale said.
That type of notification system would give victims a “sliver” of control in a similar way as tracking a package through the mail, said Kristen Houser, public affairs officer for Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
“Investigations must be completed for both the victim … and the sake of that community and for those who live elsewhere and those communities,” she said.
Forensic labs need more resources so evidence from one crime doesn’t take precedence over another type of crime.
“This is an opportunity for Pennsylvania to do something proactive,” Houser said.
The goal is for all remaining kits to be tested by this fall, DePasquale said.
The evidence gleaned can prevent future crimes, provide answers to victims and connect serial offenders.
“We cannot rest until the backlog is completely eliminated so victims can get the justice they deserve,” he said.
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter .