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Police Get Help From TV Show To Test Unprocessed Rape Kits

FLINT, Mich. (AP) - Unprocessed sexual assault kits discovered in a Flint police department evidence room are being examined with help from a TV show, police said.

Some of the nearly 250 kits date back as far as 2003. Already, 71 kits that have been tested helped identify six possible suspects, police Chief James Tolbert said. The agreement is a boost for the cash-strapped city, since testing each kit can cost hundreds of dollars.

The kits, which are assembled by hospital staff and contain biological evidence such as DNA, were brought to Tolbert's attention after he joined the department in 2013, The Flint Journal reported. Officials have been working since then to get them processed.

Flint's state-appointed emergency manager in February signed an agreement with TNT's "Cold Justice" to give the show's production company access to evidence, police reports and interrogation information associated with the kits. The show is paying for tests.

The TV show was brought in after a change prevented the department from sending old kits to state police for processing, prompting Flint to look for third-party laboratories, Tolbert said. A police lieutenant learned of the TV project while seeking a testing facility.

Kathryn Vaughan, executive producer of D and J Productions, said "Cold Justice: Sex Crimes" will look at cold cases involving rape, sexual assault and abuse. It's set to start July 31. Some who were assaulted in Flint will be involved in the show, she said.

"Some of them feel like they want to be an inspiration to help other survivors out there," she said. "If they don't have the courage to come forward, you don't have a case to investigate. That takes a lot of courage."

Rape kits only were used with permission from the individual victims, according to Jason Lorenz, a spokesman for the city of Flint.

"These are obviously very sensitive cases and the strictest care was taken to ensure that the victim's needs were met," Lorenz told The Associated Press on Friday in an email. "Nothing was done without permission of the victims."

Several other U.S. cities have backlogs on rape kit testing, due in part to what experts say is the high cost of testing. In Detroit, authorities recovered more than 11,000 rape kits at a police storage facility in 2009, drawing attention to the problem.

© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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