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Police: Nearly half of Idaho’s rape kits not sent to lab

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 28, 2016

Vials of evidence in a sexual assault case are labeled and sorted in this  2015 file photo. (Pat Sullivan / Associated Press)
Vials of evidence in a sexual assault case are labeled and sorted in this 2015 file photo. (Pat Sullivan / Associated Press)
By Kimberlee Kruesi Associated Press

BOISE – A new state audit of the evidence collected in Idaho’s sexual assault investigations shows that law enforcement officials didn’t submit nearly half of the rape kits to be tested.

Officials say that’s largely because the cases were no longer being investigated or the agency determined no crime had been committed.

The Idaho State Police released its findings last week as required under a state law enacted earlier this year. The one-time report comes after Idaho lawmakers unanimously signed off this spring on a statewide system for collecting and tracking DNA evidence of sexual assault.

The law implemented a timeline for police who decide to send the evidence to a state forensic laboratory for testing, unless the victim requests otherwise. Furthermore, agencies now need approval from their county prosecutor if they don’t think a rape kit should be tested.

Under the old system, individual law enforcement agencies were in charge of determining if a kit should be tested. This led to a wide disparity between agencies on how many kits are sent to the state lab for analysis.

Rape kits contain samples of semen, saliva or blood taken from a victim, usually a woman, during an invasive and intimate examination that can last up to six hours. The DNA collected can be entered into a national database if it’s submitted to a lab for testing. Doing so helps law enforcement officials identify serial predators.

“There’s definitely been a cultural shift when it comes to investigating sexual assault,” said Matthew Gamette, director of the Idaho State Police’s forensic services labs. “The use of the databases is now a consideration. The game has changed.”

According to the audit, every law enforcement agency in the state participated in the review, resulting in a review of 2,538 rape kits from 116 local police departments, county sheriff’s offices and regional ISP districts. More than half of those kits came from just seven agencies across the state. Roughly a third of all agencies audited didn’t have rape kits to review.

The Boise Police Department had 421 rape kits in its possession, more than any other agency according to the report. Of those, 296 had been tested, while 96 were still waiting to be tested and 21 were either deemed that no crime had been committed or the victim had declined testing.

The Nampa Police Department had 227 kits, testing 132 of them and still needing to test 81 of them.

In Twin Falls, the police department had a total of 166 kits in its possession at the time of the report and had tested 51 of them. The Twin Falls police also reported 23 victims declined to send their kit to the lab for testing – the highest out of all the other agencies. A spokesman for the police agency did not immediately return a request for comment.

Statewide, 541 kits still need to be tested.

“That number is a little bit higher than we were anticipating, but it’s not a ludicrous number,” Gamette said.

Starting in 2017, Idaho’s rape kits will include software that includes a serial number on all kits to help keep track of them during the collection, testing and retention process.

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