Memphis Mayor AC Wharton speaks about the rape kit backlog at a press conference. Photo by William DeShazer, courtesy of The Commercial Appeal.
In July 2013, the City of Memphis announced that it had a backlog of 12,164 untested rape kits dating back to the 1970s. Within a month, the Tennessee State Office of Criminal Justice Programs awarded a $500,000 grant to the Memphis Police Department (MPD) to screen untested rape kits. With the grant, the Department would be able to send 2,226 kits for preliminary screening, leaving an additional 10,000 kits unscreened and untested. In addition to the grant from the Office of Criminal Justice Programs, the Memphis City Council added $500,000 to the police department's budget for rape kit testing and committed $1 million to build a facility for properly storing rape kit evidence.
Mayor AC Wharton issued an executive order on October 21, 2013, instructing the police to develop a plan for clearing the backlog as quickly as possible and to provide monthly progress reports. The Mayor's Office also convened a Cross-Functional Team, including police, prosecutors, advocates and city officials, to develop a survivor-centered plan for ending the backlog, re-engaging survivors in the criminal justice process and moving cases forward to prosecution. In August 2014, MPD Director Toney Armstrong added seven additional investigators dedicated to backlogged cases, bringing the total to 16 permanent investigators assigned to the project.
The City estimates it will cost approximately $6.5 million to clear the backlog entirely through testing at a private lab. Since the discovery of the untested kits, Memphis has secured nearly $1 million in grants from the Tennessee State Office of Criminal Justice Programs, $3 million from the Memphis City Council, as well as a $1 million commitment from the City Council to build a facility for properly storing rape kit evidence. The city has also received a $750,000 challenge grant from a local foundation for rape kit testing, and has raised over $12,000 in private donations.
To date, there are 5,986 kits that have been tested or are at labs awaiting testing and of those, 2,226 tested negative for serology. The evidence from the tested kits have led to 459 investigations and 76 indictments.
Learn more about Memphis's reforms and read about its efforts in the media here.