Pa. police widely ignored rape kit backlog mandate

Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania officials want to know why only about a third of the state’s roughly 1,000 police agencies complied with a new requirement that they tell the state Health Department how many untested rape kits are in their possession.

Police in Philadelphia shot and killed the driver of a minivan who they say drove toward them when they attempted to stop the vehicle. File photo

Physician General Rachel Levine said last week work on collecting comprehensive numbers is continuing, but the law does not punish agencies that do not provide the figures.

The Health Department announced last week that 332 police agencies reported at the end of last year that they had more than 1,850 rape kits that had gone more than a year without being tested.

“I guess their penalty is not being in the report, so that their municipality knows they didn’t send us a report at that time,” Levine said.

Tom Gross, executive director of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, said he suspects “it’s mostly a question of awareness,” but his organization is trying to pin down exactly what occurred.

Gross said it can be a challenge to inform departments and get them to comply with new mandates.

“We still have a lot of trouble getting all the police departments to update and alert the fingerprinting of criminals, which we’ve been trying to do for the last 30 to 40 years,” Gross said.

Levine said the 2015 figures were compiled after working with the district attorneys’ association, state police and a victims’ right group to send out information.

“We even called, specifically, some large municipalities — sometimes with success, sometimes not,” Levine said.

The state auditor general’s office has launched a study, expected later this year, about what can be done to reduce the backlog. Spokeswoman Susan Woods said the rate of police agency reporting also will be examined.

“I mean, it’s a new law,” Woods said. “It’s not infrequent to see with a new law some confusion about compliance.”

Levine said some of the departments may have had no backlog and did not realize they needed to report anyway. Others may be storing kits from victims who have not yet given their consent to have them tested.

Legislation enacted last year requires police to pick up kits within three days of getting notice from a hospital, and get them to a lab within 15 days.