Along with Detroit, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) awarded Houston an action-research grant in 2011 to study the causes of the backlog and develop and implement a plan for testing. A recent audit had uncovered more than 6,600 untested rape kits—some dating back to the 1980s—in the Houston Police Department’s property division.
In February 2013, Houston’s Mayor Annise Parker announced that City Council had approved a plan to eliminate the city’s backlog of 6,663 untested rape kits entirely within 14 months. Officials estimated it would cost the city $4.4 million to outsource the kits to two private labs for testing. Funding would come from $2.2 million in federal grants and $2.2 million in the city’s current budget.
While it typically costs approximately $1,200 to outsource just one rape kit, the private labs offered a discounted price of $400 per kit given the large volume of kits they would receive. Along with the backlogged kits, the city would also send 1,450 kits from active rape cases, 1,020 DNA samples from other crimes and an estimated 1,000 rape kits that would be collected over the next year, for a total of 10,130.
As of August 2013, the Houston Police Department (HPD) had submitted every backlogged kit for testing. The multidisciplinary team working on the NIJ project also developed a protocol for notifying survivors that their kits were part of the backlog, including a hotline survivors can call for more information. HPD is encouraging survivors of both backlogged and new cases to contact the sexual assault information line at (713) 308-1400, or by email at email@example.com.
The Houston Chronicle reported in January 2014 that the two private labs had received 9,500 cases and completed testing in nearly 6,200, resulting in 280 matches in the DNA database so far. Among the 3,760 cases that had undergone HPD review to ensure compliance with federal standards, sufficient evidence was found in 1,268 cases. Another 2,410 cases had undergone testing but still awaited HPD review.
Learn more about Houston's reforms and read about its efforts in the media here.