Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has vowed to find up to $3 million in a tight budget to clear a three-year backlog of DNA evidence collected from 1,500 rape victims but not been analyzed, says the Chicago Tribune. The money would train and hire scientists at the Illinois State Police Crime Lab, which has nine offices across the state.
The move comes after the Tribune told of a group of women seeking to raise money to have the rape kits analyzed by private labs. Police and victim activists said that tight budgets, conflicting priorities, and increasing demand for DNA testing had led to the backlog. The Women’s DNA Initiative, headed by Sheri Mecklenburg, chief counsel to Chicago Police Superintendent Philip Cline, will continue fundraising efforts.
The rape kits hold traces of DNA left by attackers that can lead to a suspect when compared to databases of offenders. When New York City cleared a backlog of 17,000 cases, it led to 107 arrests.
The U.S. Justice Department estimates there are tens of thousands of rape kits that haven’t been analyzed by police departments across the nation. The backlog in Illinois includes about 1,500 rape kits from police agencies statewide and more than 400 other criminal cases for which DNA evidence has been gathered. About 1,000 rape victims in Chicago are affected by the backlog, said Chicago police spokesman David Bayless.
To erase a similar backlog in 2001, the Illinois legislature approved $2.3 million to expand the nine labs. Eleven scientists were hired to deal exclusively with DNA, but the labs fell behind.