Springfield sends untested rape kits to private lab due to backlog

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This Thursday, April 2, 2015 photo shows an evidence bag from a sexual assault case in the biology lab at the Houston Forensic Science Center in Houston. Legislators in more than 20 states are considering _ and in some cases, passing _ laws that include auditing all kits and deadlines for submitting and processing DNA evidence. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — SPD used a grant to go through a private lab, and SB569 will help with speed and transparency.

The Springfield Police Department is another step closer to bringing justice for the victims of sexual assault. SPD is starting to put a dent in the number of backlogged sexual assault kits at their department.

That inventory was taken towards the end of 2019. At that time, the state had over 6,000 untested sexual assault kits. 320 of those were at SPD, according to Chief Paul Williams.

Since then, Police Chief Paul Williams says SPD has whittled those 320 backlogged kits down to just 119 thanks in large part to a big batch that went out last week.

“On Friday we got to send off another 50 of our backlogged kits for testing at a private lab that is contracted through the state of Missouri as part of a Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Grant. That’s administered through the Attorney Generals Office,” Williams says.

Normally, those are sent to the state crime lab, which Williams says is overworked with the amount of tests. Williams says he hopes that even after this grant expires, they will be able to come to an agreement with a private lab to continue getting through their backlog.

Statewide, Williams says almost 1,500 kits have been sent off for testing as a part of this grant.

For SPD, it will allow the department to focus on more current cases. He says they have already applied for another grant.

“I don’t know if we can wipe it out completely with the next grant. That would be the hope, but if not, certainly two grant cycles would be able to eliminate the statewide backlog, which would be good,” says Williams.

All of the kits at the police department have a report attached to them, and once results are back, investigators work with victim advocates and prosecutors to determine the best course of action going forward for victims.

“There’s potential predators, perpetrators of sexual assaults that have not been brough to justice – and victims who have not seen that sense of justice,” Williams says.

This grant is not the only tool being used to clear this backlog.

On Friday, SB569 went into effect. Attorney General Eric Schmitt says there are two main functions that will help victims out with speed and transparency.

“One was to have a central repository for all of the kits, and the Highway Patrol will be managing that. Also, we have an online tracking system so that victims and law enforcement know where those kits are at all times. We think that is an important part of transparency and also maintaining trust with victims who have had the courage to come forward,” says Scmitt.

Law enforcement offices aren’t the only places that have kits backlogged. Schmitt says that the state is working on gathering backlogged kits from hospitals around the state as well.

“We went to hospitals – anywhere there were these kits that had been stored. In some cases, for decades, and that’s unacceptable in the sense that we honor the courage of the victims who have come forward so that those kits don’t sit on shelves for that long. It should never happen again,” Schmitt says.

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