Report says more funding needed to cut into rape kit backlog
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania government auditors said Wednesday new funding is needed to cut into the state’s backlog of untested rape kits, and they suggested penalties against police agencies that do not meet testing and reporting standards imposed by a law enacted last year.
The auditor general’s office released a report that followed the state Health Department’s disclosure in May that there were more than 1,850 rape kits in Pennsylvania that had gone more than a year without being tested. There were more than 3,000 untested kits in all.
Auditors raised questions about the accuracy of the Health Department’s numbers and said it will be costly to meet standards in the 2015 Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act.
“Moving forward, if you don’t test that rape kit, that rapist can go out and rape other victims,” Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said at a Capitol news conference. “Here in Pennsylvania, the late processing of kits is one barrier preventing swift justice.”
The typical cost at the three large public crime labs is about $1,000-$1,500 per kit, although there has been federal funding available. It’s not clear what it will cost to ramp up the labs to eliminate the backlog.
The Health Department said four months ago that 332 police agencies reported their rape kit backlog, roughly a third of the state’s total number of police departments.
The auditor general’s report said there was widespread lack of knowledge within law enforcement about the new law, which requires police to pick up kits within three days of getting notice from a hospital, and to have them delivered to a lab within 15 days. There’s evidence that some police departments may not be following a provision of the law that requires written permission from the victim before their rape kit can be tested.
Most rape kits in Pennsylvania are sent to one of the state’s three large public crime labs — the state police’s Bureau of Forensic Services, the Philadelphia Office of Forensic Services and the Allegheny County medical examiner’s office.
All three told the auditor general’s office they will need more people in order to effectively process more cases, and state police said they have run out of room at the six facilities they operate.
On Tuesday, the state police commissioner and Health secretary signed an agreement for the state police to compile data on rape kits from police agencies across the state and turn it over to the Health Department.
State Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-Washington, the prime sponsor of the 2015 rape kit law, said he hoped lawmakers will devote money to reduce the backlog during next year’s budget process. The 2015 law did not include any funding, but a federal program has provided some grants to address Pennsylvania’s backlog.