September 02, 2016 01:18 PM
Some of the 523 untested rape kits in the Duluth Police Department's possession have begun to be tested by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
About a year ago, the state mandated each police department inventory its stock of untested rape kits. Rape kits are the medical and other evidence collected after an alleged sexual assault occurs and is reported. Duluth had the highest number in the state by just under 100. The kits span from 1993-2015.
"We have 523. 124 of those are anonymous kits. And for anonymous kits, we don't have consent of victims to send those for testing, and the BCA wouldn't accept without victim's consent," Mary Faulkner, the site coordinator for the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, said.
Faulkner also works with PAVSA, and she emphasized how important the anonymous reporting option is for sexual assault cases.
"It allows victims who may not otherwise come forward to get the medical assistance they need. It allows them to have access to advocacy," Faulkner said. "The kits, if they ever were to work with law enforcement, can be converted to a standard report at that time, and it would be treated as a current case."
Anonymity is just one of the reasons a kit may not be tested. A victim may also choose not to pursue charges. Lt. Dan Chicos with Duluth Police said other logistics come into play too.
"We talk about resources - not enough investigative personnel to follow up on some of these cases," Chicos said. "You talk about lab personnel, because once we send it to them, we don't know what their caseload is. Because they don't just service the Duluth Police Department, they service all law enforcement agencies within the state."
Lt. Chicos said he was a little surprised when he heard the number of kits the department has in storage.
"I don't think you really know how big of a problem it is until you actually roll up your sleeves and do a complete audit and analysis of how widespread or big the problem might very well be," Chicos said.
Since that inventory and receiving a $1 million grant for a three-year initiative, a multidisciplinary group of people have been going through each cold case one by one.
"Part of my job is to do case review, look back on all of those kits and begin to get at kind of the why," Faulkner said.
That team helps decide what to do next.
"We look at physical evidence, eyewitness accounts, statements of those involved," Chicos said. "Those are some of the things we look at as far as ... a case that we're really going to be able to bring forward to a prosecutorial phase."
So far, the department and its partners have sent 51 kits to the BCA. They send them in batches of 10, and they have to wait to get one group back before they can send the next.
"We have to be strategic in how we go forward, taking all these historical cases that were unsubmitted and again, try to prioritize," Chicos said.
As strategic as they are, they also rely on other organizations functioning efficiently.
"This is kind of a statewide issue. Duluth had the largest inventory, but there are other jurisdictions that are looking to test historical kits as well," Faulkner said. "One thing that we need at the statewide level is for the BCA to get additional funding for their processes."
Last summer, DPD implemented new policies regarding rape kits going forward.
"In July of 2015, Duluth Police Department changed their protocol so all current kits are being sent in for testing if they have the victim's consent," Faulkner said. "So the goal there is to not create any new inventories of untested kits."
Chicos said if the evidence helps them pinpoint a perpetrator, they want to get that person in the system right away so they can better understand if they have a serial offender on their hands.
"I think the actual investigation part of it hasn't changed. We still look at this as a very serious, very violent offense," Chicos said.
As they move ahead, Chicos said officers are using the current initiative to teach them how to better respond to sexual assault cases.
"We realize that there's some things we needed to different, things we needed to do better when it comes to these types of investigations," he said.
No one has been charged from combing through and testing the historic kits, but Faulkner said there is potential for some prosecution in the future.
Victims and those who have reported sexual assaults who are unsure about the status of their case can call the Betty Sky hotline at (218) 730-5449 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated: September 02, 2016 01:18 PM
Created: September 01, 2016 05:37 PM
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