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Local law-enforcement agencies to receive funding to expand storage of sexual-assault kits

UPDATED: Tue., March 22, 2022

By Daisy Zavala Seattle Times

More than a dozen Seattle-area police departments will receive funding for cold-storage units to preserve evidence of sexual assaults, according to Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

“More storage means more evidence can be tested, and more crimes can be solved,” Ferguson said in a news release announcing the funding. “These resources will bring justice to survivors.”

The money is being allocated under Ferguson’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, which aims to improve Washington’s response to sexual-assault cases and help clear existing backlogs.

Ferguson’s office set aside $177,000 in federal grant money for the initiative for local law-enforcement agencies to purchase refrigeration units to store the kits, according to the news release. The Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs and the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative team asked local law-enforcement agencies to determine how much new cold storage they would need, according to the news release.

The Attorney’s General Office can reimburse up to $10,000 under the Department of Justice grant, which funds the SAKI initiative, said Brionna Aho, with the Attorney’s General Office.

Of the 260 law-enforcement agencies in the state, 53 reported that they will need additional storage and will be reimbursed for all expenses, according to the news release. While 41 agencies will receive funding in this first round, another 12 agencies, including Edmonds and Mill Creek police, will receive funding in an upcoming second round, according to the news release.

The King County law-enforcement agencies that will receive funding as well as the amounts are Black Diamond ($1,100) Kent ($10,000), Kirkland ($5,700) and Redmond ($4,400).

Snohomish County agencies receiving funding are Brier ($3,400), Lynnwood ($10,000), Mill Creek ($1,300), Monroe ($3,400) and Edmonds (no amount provided).

Bothell police, whose jurisdiction includes portions of King and Snohomish counties, will receive $4,100.

Pierce County law-enforcement agencies receiving funding includes Bonney Lake ($3,500), Fife ($2,800), Lakewood ($4,900), Orting ($4,100), Puyallup ($2,500) and Gig Harbor ($800). Milton and Pacific, cities that are in Pierce and King counties, will receive $1,000 and $1,100, respectively.

“These resources will help ensure that sexual assault evidence, including evidence that needs to be refrigerated, does not expire due to lack of capacity,” Ferguson’s office said.

The increased storage capacity is meant to help law-enforcement agencies comply with a 2020 law that requires evidence of alleged sexual assault, including DNA, to be stored for at least 20 years even if the victim does not report the crime to law enforcement. The bill also requires evidence from sexual assaults that are reported to police to be stored for 100 years.

A kit for an unreported sexual assault will be taken at a hospital by a medical professional and stored by the local law-enforcement agency in case the sexual-assault survivor decides to file a report, according to the news release.

Investigations have found that police departments across the country, including in Washington, were destroying unreported kits before the bill’s passage.

After passage of the law, the Attorney General’s Office looked for ways it could support law-enforcement agencies, particularly smaller police departments, that likely would have struggled to purchase the new equipment to comply with state law, according to Ferguson’s office.

There are two types of sexual-assault-kit backlogs in Washington. One involves kits that sit in a law-enforcement agency’s evidence storage facility because a DNA analysis was never requested, while the other happens when kits are submitted to crime-lab facilities but haven’t been tested, according to the release.

The number of backlogged kits in the state reached nearly 10,000 in 2015.

In 2017, the Attorney General’s Office received its first SAKI funding of $3 million and used half, the maximum allowed under the grant, to pay for testing of backlogged kits. In 2019, it received an additional $2.5 million.

That same year, the state Legislature authorized funding to build a DNA lab in Vancouver that would allow the crime lab to process a higher number of cases and speed up the process.

Because of those efforts, the crime lab has tested 5,278 kits previously backlogged, which led to 1,315 DNA matches, according to Ferguson’s office.

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