In evidence rooms from Miami Beach to Hialeah, old swabs of saliva and smudges of semen collected from thousands of rape victims are slowly being pulled off the shelf and sent to labs to be harvested for DNA that may hold the key to solving crimes around the U.S., reports the Miami Herald. Whether for lack of a victim willing to testify, or because police already made an arrest, unprocessed rape kits have accumulated in Miami-Dade to a number that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement says is unmatched by any other county in the state. An estimated 13,000 kits remain untested in Florida, with one in four stashed somewhere in Miami-Dade County.
It could cost state labs $30 million and years of effort to test the kits. A $2 million plan is under way in Miami-Dade to process the state's biggest backlog. Miami police are getting $2 million from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who, after solving 200 cold cases years ago by testing 17,000 old rape kits, offered to use millions in civil penalties levied on wayward New York banks to fund similar efforts around the U.S. Police say the public shouldn't equate thousands of untested kits with thousands of rapists on the loose. The collection of old kits now being analyzed were kept from the lab because an arrest had already been made, or the offender wasn't in question, rendering the necessity of the rape kit less urgent. In some old cases, police say the technology wasn't advanced enough to yield results, the allegations were proven to be unfounded, or prosecutors wouldn't take the case. Still, similar efforts in Detroit, Los Angeles, Houston and New York have resulted in hundreds of matches to a federal database and the prosecution of dozens of suspects.