The Missouri Attorney General’s office says it will interview every police department, hospital and crime lab in the state to determine the number of untested sexual assault evidence “kits” as part of the statewide audit announced Thursday.
Attorney General Josh Hawley said his staff had already begun the process of determining procedures for interviews of custodians of sexual assault evidence and would begin the audit as soon as possible.
“I think the first step is for the attorney general’s office to sit down with every agency and entity that touches the rape kit collection and distribution process,” Hawley said. “So that means local law enforcement officials, that means hospitals and service providers, that means crime labs.”
The goal is be able to make recommendations about how to move forward to resolve the problem, Hawley said.
“We will be pressing for actual numbers, and if we can’t get them, that will be something we can identify that needs to be changed,” Hawley said. The office also plans to look at procedures for sending evidence to be tested and whether they’re being followed, or if they need to be changed to ensure the backlog is eliminated.
The office’s action was prompted by a Missourian investigationinto the backlog of untested sexual assault evidence held by police and hospitals in Missouri. Without processing DNA evidence from sexual assaults, it’s harder for law enforcement officials to link crimes. After discovering a similar backlog, other states and cities around the country have solved cases by testing evidence and identifying suspects.
The attorney general’s office does not have a target date for completing the audit as they do not know the scale of the problem, Hawley said. But the audit will be done with existing financial resources and won’t require more funding.
In the process of reporting the sexual assault evidence kit story, sources told the Missourian that they feared a statewide audit would prompt law enforcement agencies to dispose of untested kits to avoid admitting they have a backlog. Hawley said he doubted police or sheriff’s departments would dispose of evidence and “counsels strongly against” the destruction of evidence by any entities holding untested kits.
“It’s not about assigning blame,” Hawley said. “It’s about getting to the bottom of why this backlog exists.” He said he expected law enforcement agencies throughout the state to cooperate fully.
“For those (survivors) who are ready and able to come forward and want to give evidence, my goodness, their courage should be recognized,” Hawley said. “And it’s all the more reason why the evidence they give should be processed and used.”