Rape Kit Investigation: A Year Later

Testing of rape kit data sometimes takes months, even years.
Testing of rape kit data sometimes takes months, even years.
Testing of rape kit data sometimes takes months, even years.
Our investigation found it took months, even years, for rape kits to be tested. CBS

A year ago CBS News broadcast an investigation into untested evidence from rape cases in America.

We found over 20,000 rape kits collecting dust in police evidence vaults and another 6,000 sitting in crime labs waiting to be tested. In some crime labs the kits were not tested for months or even years. In Alaska we found it could take up to three years and in Louisiana we found eight year old kits that had never been tested.

Since our story aired there was a series of Congressional hearings and a new White House initiative was launched to ramp up testing. Law and Order SVU aired an episode on September 29, 2010 that profiled the problem of untested rape kits.

We've also seen some changes in the departments we profiled:

  • CBS News reported the San Antonio Police Department had over 5,000 untested kits in storage. After our story aired they announced they would test all kits from stranger cases and they say they have now tested all of the stranger cases.

  • The Cleveland Police Department told CBS last year that they did not know how many rape kits, tested or untested they had in storage. This spring they completed a count and found over 6,000 rape kits of which 1,426 were not tested. The department announced it will test all of those kits and all other kits going forward.

  • The state crime lab in Louisiana told CBS last year that it had rape kits dating back eight years that had still not been tested. This year in an effort to speed up testing, New Orleans announced it would test evidence from 400 old rape cases.

  • The Chicago Police Department told CBS News that it stored evidence from "unfounded" rape cases and the rest were sent to the state crime lab. A July report by the advocacy group Human Rights Watch suggested "80 percent of rape kits may never have been examined in the state". This summer Illinois passed the first law of its kind mandating the submission and testing of sexual assault evidence.

  • CBS News reported last year that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department had 3,777 more kits to test from their original backlog of over 5,000. This fall the Sheriff's office said they had sent all of the remaining kits to private labs to be processed and they say they are on track to eliminate their backlog by June, 2011.

But the problem persists:

  • Despite spending over $4 million, Houston is still struggling to test new rape kits as well as make any progress on testing 4,000 untested kits in storage dating back to the 1990's according to the Houston Chronicle. The Houston Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.

  • The nation's premiere crime lab at the FBI was found to have 3,211 backlogged forensic cases.
  • Over 10,000 untested rape kits in Detroit have still not been cleared.

  • The city of Oakland had 489 untested rape kits in "active cases", some more than six years old that had not been tested. "I don't think we've made a dent in that," Jeffrey Thomassen of the Oakland Police Department told CBS News but he noted that they had just received a new grant for almost $400,000 that will be targeted at reducing the backlog.

  • The Phoenix Police Department told CBS last year that they had over 4,000 rape kits in storage but did not know if they were tested or untested. The Phoenix Police Department did not respond to requests for comment about their status this year.

  • Many more police departments have no idea how many rape kits, tested or untested are in their departments.