In the most detailed inventory of untested rape kits, USA Today, Gannett newspapers and TEGNA TV stations found over 70,000 neglected kits in an open-records effort covering 1,000-plus police agencies. Despite its scope, the count includes a small fraction of the 18,000 U.S. police departments, suggesting the number of untested kits reaches into the hundreds of thousands. The kits contain forensic evidence collected from survivors in an invasive process that can last six hours. Testing can yield DNA evidence that helps identify and prosecute suspects, and exonerate the wrongly accused. The records reveal wide inconsistency in how police handle rape evidence from agency to agency, even officer to officer. Some departments test every kit. Others send as few as two in 10 to crime labs. Decades of promises from politicians and $1 billion in federal funding has failed to fix the problems.
The roughly $1,000 cost to analyze each kit is among the hindrances for police. While attention has been focused on large metro police agencies, tens of thousands of untested sexual assault kits are accumulating almost without notice at rural and smaller city departments. Hundreds of rape kits remain untested in places like Muncie, In., Visalia, Ca., St. Cloud, Mn., and Green Bay, Wi. In most states and at most law enforcement agencies, there are no guidelines for processing sex-crime evidence. Decisions often are left to the discretion of investigating officers. The U.S. Justice Department is failing to comply with a 2013 law that was meant to get more rape kits tested and set national protocols for processing sexual assault evidence.