A A renewed effort to clear Missouri’s backlog of untested sexual assault kits is showing promising results, as many law enforcement agencies in the region now report zero untested kits in their inventories.
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office has worked with 169 law enforcement agencies to clear their backlogs of untested and reported sexual assault kits statewide. A total of 3,298 kits were tested thanks to a 2018 federal grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance and a $2.6 million appropriation from the Missouri Legislature.
Seventy-four southwestern Missouri police and sheriff’s departments that have worked with the state now have no untested and reported sexual assault kits in their inventories, Attorney General Eric Schmitt said.
Schmitt started the SAFE Kit Initiative in Missouri three years ago to help eliminate the backlog of untested and reported sexual assault kits. He credited Mr. Keithley Williams, a former Jasper County trial judge who now leads the statewide initiative, and his team for its success.
There are currently three active lawsuits that are a direct result of CODIS results from the kits that were tested under the initiative, the attorney general said. The Combined DNA Index System, known as CODIS, is computer software that contains local, state, and national DNA databases and allows users to electronically compare DNA profiles. It stores DNA profiles of convicted offenders and missing persons and DNA profiles of crime scene evidence.
“While this is a major achievement, there is still work to be done,” Schmitt said. “My office has worked with the Missouri State Highway Patrol to send referrals to prosecutors when CODIS hits are encountered and will continue to do so.”
A sexual assault kit, offered free to the patient, allows medical professionals to collect evidence from the victim. Participating in such an examination can be very traumatic for the victim, said Susan Hickam, executive director of Joplin’s Lafayette House, which serves adults, children and families who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or related disorders. to substance use.
“Testing these kits can let victims know their case is progressing and action is being taken,” she said. “It really gives the victim the feeling that someone is listening, someone is caring and that they can, in some way, find a solution to the case. Resolution doesn’t necessarily mean someone is whole again, but it is part of the process.
In southwestern Missouri
Several law enforcement agencies in southwestern Missouri have no untested sexual assault kits on their shelves after working with the attorney general’s office to reduce the statewide backlog .
Joplin Police Chief Sloan Rowland said there has been a lot of positive movement to clear the backlog of untested kits with help from the state. In 2020, the Joplin Police Department reported having 43 untested sexual assault kits. Now the department has zero.
“It was a good thing, and the state made a deal and funded it for the first round,” Rowland said. “Then the funding disappeared, so we waited and got a second round. We weren’t sure if we were going to get the third round to the point that we started looking for outside vendors to try to deal with the backlog.
Rowland said it was difficult to find a crime lab in the area that did not have a backlog; other departments had the same problems with little funding and few agencies able to test the kits. The Joplin Police Department receives sexual assault kits from other law enforcement agencies in the area to send to the crime lab.
“We had finally found a lab, but there was a backlog of nearly eight months and a wait to get in, so it was fortuitous for us that the state found the money and did this final round of funding,” said Rowland. “We served as the hub three times, and we collected kits from everyone in the whole area around this part of Missouri and kept them. The state came for them. Currently we do not have any sexual assault kits pending.
Webb City Police Chief Don Melton said his department’s inventory of kits was also empty. The Webb City Police Department had three untested kits in 2021 and one this year. Melton said all four were taken to and tested in the state.
“It’s pretty amazing how quickly they were able to process the tests once they received them,” he said. “We appreciate that they do it for us.”
The Carl Junction Police Department has no untested kits, Detective and Evidence Officer Stephanie Castlebury said.
Jasper County Sheriff Randee Kaiser said his department sent a few untested kits to the state some time ago, though he can’t remember the exact number.
“We closed this file a long time ago,” he said.
The Newton County Sheriff’s Department also does not have any kits that have not been tested at this time, Detective Wanda Williams said.
“We worked with the attorney general to make sure they got all the kits,” she said.
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office surveyed law enforcement, crime labs and healthcare providers who process sexual assault kits statewide in 2017 and found 4,889 untested kits. and reported. The office received a three-year grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative in late 2018 to help clear the backlog.
Schmitt’s office is currently conducting an updated inventory that covers pending kits from 1998 through April 2020 with another round of SAKI program grants.
Hickam, of Lafayette House, said it’s great the state is working to clear the backlog and get cases going whenever possible.
“We could potentially end something that is continuously happening to other people,” she said.
The state of Kansas has also cracked down on untested sexual assault kits. The Kansas Sexual Assault Kit Initiative is led by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which has identified more than 2,200 sexual assault kits already submitted as of March 2017.
Kansas Governor Laura Kelly signed bipartisan legislation earlier this month that requires sexual assault kits to be tested within 30 days of collecting evidence. The bill also gives law enforcement the ability to collect evidence at child advocacy centers, where child victims can feel safer and more comfortable.
“Survivors of sexual assault deserve peace of mind and assurance that the justice system is working diligently to prosecute their attacker,” Kelly said in a statement. “The delays they have faced are unacceptable. This common-sense legislation speeds up justice and the enforcement of the rights of victims of crime.
Cherokee County Sheriff David Groves said his department adopted a policy several years ago requiring sexual assault kits to be submitted within 30 days.
“This new law only serves to buttress our current policies and practices,” Groves said. “At the time this policy was adopted, we did not have outdated assault kits that had not been tested, but we knew there was a problem nationwide, as they did not were not tested in a timely manner for various reasons.”