Seattle police will begin DNA testing on all sexual-assault evidence kits and dig into the backlog of 1,276 stored kits that were never tested, the department announced on Thursday.
Police said the decision was made after discussions with the King County Prosecutor’s Office, Harborview Medical Center and victim-advocacy groups.
“We will test all sexual-assault kits moving forward and begin addressing untested kits,” Capt. Deanna Nollette, supervisor of the SPD’s Special Victims Unit, said in a news release.
There’s a backlog of untested kits nationwide, in some areas because of the cost of DNA testing, which can range from $500 to $1,500 per kit.
Sexual assault victims generally undergo a forensic examination in which potential evidence such as blood, saliva, or semen is collected and preserved in what is commonly called a rape kit.
After receiving a kit, the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab examines evidence for DNA belonging to a suspect. Results are entered into the Combined DNA Index System, CODIS, a large FBI database containing DNA profiles.
The Seattle Police Department has collected 1,641 rape kits during the past decade, of which only 365 have been tested by the state crime lab.
Last year, Seattle police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb told Times news partner KING-TV it was department policy to only test rape kits from cases in which charges had been filed.
Whitcomb said police need to balance the need for DNA evidence with the potential damage to people who are innocent.
“We don’t want to be putting the DNA of uncharged people into a federal database,” Whitcomb told KING-TV. “It really boils down to, when you’ve got a charged case you’ve met a certain threshold, you’ve done a follow-up investigation, you’ve got a real need to have that evidence in court.”
In November, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. pledged as much as $35 million to help eliminate the backlog of rape kits that has long troubled authorities, victims and lawmakers.
Experts estimate hundreds of thousands of rape kits remain to be tested for genetic evidence that could identify, or eliminate, a suspect. Some kits have languished for decades, according to The Associated Press.
Rape victims deserve to see that the extensive exams weren’t for nothing, Vance said in announcing the funding.
“We want them to know that we, as a nation, are doing everything in our power to bring justice to them,” he said.
The backlog is largely a factor of the cost of testing, but advocates feel it also signals that sex crimes haven’t always been enforcement priorities.