Few states and no federal agencies require that law enforcement track or count the untested rape kits in their storage facilities. The process of uncovering the extent of a backlog is therefore quite complex.
We kicked off The Accountability Project by selecting 15 of the largest cities for which we have no information about the rape kit backlog. We met with our team of pro bono attorneys to develop a list of questions we sought to answer about the number of untested kits in each of those cities, including:
- The number of rape kits collected and booked into police evidence in the last ten years;
- The number of rape kits that have been processed by a public or private crime or forensic laboratory in the last ten years;
- The number of unprocessed rape kits in any storage facilities currently under the department’s jurisdiction and control; and
- Any written policies or procedures regarding department practices on the handling of rape kit evidence, including testing protocols.
The attorneys then researched the state public records laws that would apply to the cities we selected. Every state has a public records (or freedom of information) law that allows members of the public to obtain documents and other records from state and local government entities, with certain exceptions. Citing these laws, our attorneys drafted letters with our questions to the relevant law enforcement agency in each city.
In some cases, the legal team was able to identify and get in touch with a contact person at a city’s law enforcement agency who could answer some of our questions or direct our request to the appropriate department or individual. In other cities, the team simply sent a letter to the address designated for public records requests, as indicated on the law enforcement agency’s website.
Some agencies responded immediately to confirm they were working to gather the information we requested. Several agencies requested extensions. Others responded that they could not provide the information requested because they do not track rape kit data.
After receiving responses from each city, Joyful Heart reached out to major stakeholders in the community, including respective state sexual assault coalitions, lab personnel, local rape crisis centers, police departments and prosecutors’ offices, to discuss findings and provide support in formulating a plan for rape kit reform.
We encourage you to explore the END THE BACKLOG map and to check back frequently for additional information.