Thousands of rape kits — many of them dating back to the 1980s — are sitting in the Houston Police Department Property division, waiting to be tested.
Last week, the City of Houston accepted a federal grant from the National Institute of Justice to help tackle the backlog.
Professor William Wells, with the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University, will oversee the project. He says part of the one million dollar grant will be used to test the kits. The rest of the money will be used for research.
“This is a problem that many jurisdictions around the country are facing, it’s not something that’s unique to Houston. So, NIJ funded two sites to look into this issue with research, in a greats level of detail, so that we can study this problem, and Houston can be a real national leader, in terms of shedding light on the nature of this problem, and helping to understand what can be done to affectively, to deal with the problem.”
For years, the Houston Police Department believed that the backlog of untested rape kits was around 4,000. That number has been determined to be over 6,000. Police Chief Charles McClelland says in some of the kits, the suspect confessed, received jail time and was released.
“There are kits where the statute of limitations have expired, and you can never prosecute anyone. Out of those 6,000 plus kits, there are a number where the complainant refused to cooperate. Out of those 6,000 kits, there are certain number where the suspect admitted he had sex with the complainant, but it was consensual.”
Houston Councilmember Jolanda Jones claims the grant will only make a dent in the backlog. That’s why she voted against the funding.
“At best they hope to test 320. So I am not at all surprised that the number is more than double what they said they were backlogged. But quite frankly, one of the reasons why we have a backlogis because we have HPD over the lab. So the second we get an independant regional crime lab, the cost of testing will not be as expensive, and we can put a dent in it.”
Chief McClelland says with all due respect to the research being on the number of untested kits, he believes any rape kit that goes untested past 30 days is backlogged.
“But the only thing that will test every single sexual assault kit in our custody at this time, is money and resources. It’s not a lack of organization. It’s not a lack of the ability of a crime lab to do it. It’s money and people.”