Police: Testing all rape kits costly, inefficient

Police, advocates disagree on whether all rape kits should be tested

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu police say a proposal to test all rape kits, including 1,500 kits dating back more than a decade, would be costly and inefficient.

They argue the current system, in which kits undergo DNA testing only if an investigator or prosecutor requests it, ensures that resources are used wisely.

But advocates disagree, saying that an across-the-board testing policy could catch serial rapists, link perpetrators to other crimes and give victims peace of mind. Rape kits are collected after a sex assault and contain crucial evidence.

The issue of rape kit testing is hitting the headlines thanks to Senate Bill 2309 (and concurrent House Bill 1907), which would establish a sex assault tracking program, require that rape kits be submitted to a lab within 10 days and that an analysis be conducted within six months. Additionally, the results of the analysis would have to be uploaded to the state DNA database and the FBI's DNA Index System.

Lawmakers and crime victims' advocates who support the bill say across-the-board testing would bring Hawaii in line with some other states that have sought reforms.

"There's a lot of data that demonstrates that it is important to test rape kits, regardless. One of the pieces of data is that we know that rapists are serial offenders not just of sexual assault but other crimes." said Kata Issari, executive director of Joyful Heart Foundation-Hawaii.

But police say testing all rape kits would be costly.

HPD has 1,500 untested rape kits, dating back over a decade. The department says testing all the kits would cost about $2.3 million in 2016.

While the untested kits are commonly referred to as a "backlog," HPD quibbles with the term. They say only about 15 kits are still awaiting testing -- and so should be considered part of a backlog.

"We take sex assault very seriously," HPD Deputy Chief Marie McCauley said. "We immediately test the kits where the suspect is unknown."

Police add that prioritizing testing makes sense for a department with limited resources. If a suspect is known to the victim or if the victim withdraws the complaint, then the kit is stored, police said.

If the attacker isn't named or if the detective or prosecutor handling the case requests testing, it's done as soon as possible.

While police are opposing across-the-board testing, they also say they're seeking grants to bolster testing and hire more lab technicians.

As part of the discussion about rape kit testing, lawmakers have questioned how rape kits are tracked.

At a legislative hearing Wednesday, police couldn't immediately say how many untested rape kits HPD has, which angered lawmakers. Later the same day, HPD submitted additional testimony with the number of untested kits.

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