The Manhattan District Attorney’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice are giving $79 million to 43 police agencies across the country to process rape kits that, in some places, have sat untested for years.
It’s estimated that there’s a backlog of 70,000 sexual assault evidence kits in laboratories or police storage, meaning that forensic evidence has not been tested or used to identify perpetrators.
Here & Now’s Peter O’Dowd talks with Kermit Channell, executive director of the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory, which just received a grant from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to process the state’s backlog of 1,513 kits.
Interview Highlights: Kermit Channell
How did the backlog get this bad?
“I think there are various reasons why. You know, when you look at the backlog, in Arkansas for instance, our state crime lab is independent from law enforcement. I can only tell you what we have in the laboratory. Previous to some legislation, there was no way I could tell really what sexual assault cases might be in the hands of law enforcement that have not been submitted. You know, they’re two separate issues that, when you talk about backlogs, you talk about backlogs within a crime laboratory, then you talk about backlogs that are specifically in the hands of law enforcement. As far as a crime lab, you know when they do the work, of course they have to be appropriately funded and staffed in order to process these kits. And on the other side, when you talk about sexual assault cases in the hands of law enforcement, they of course have to be trained in the proper handling and investigation of these types of kits and cases to really try to discern what’s going to come to the laboratory.”
With the additional funding your agency just received, how many cases of rape do you expect to be solved by going through this backlog of kits?
“It’s really hard to say because right now, the way it stands in Arkansas, I’ve been able to identify a little over 1,500 sexual assault kits. And that’s simply by reaching out to our 10 biggest agencies throughout the state to try to find out what they had. We did pass some legislation that will require law enforcement, as well as hospitals throughout our state, to report back to the crime lab at the end of the calendar year so we can really get a true snapshot of how many cases are out there.”
Do you think the women who have been waiting for justice deserve an apology?
“I think definitely if we find cases out there – specifically whether it’s in Arkansas or any other state, and it’s clear that the sexual assault case should have come to the laboratory for testing – then, yes. Then I do believe, yeah, the victim deserves some form of apology. You know, it’s difficult for a crime lab director, because it’s not only important that we get those cases, it’s important that we process them in a timely manner where we can put them into the database, you know, to search for cases that, you know, might not help that specific case, but it might help to solve a different case. And we’ve seen that through some of the results coming out of Detroit and Houston where they’re able to, you know, link serial rapists.”