90 percent of evidence kits HPD collects after rapes are untested

90 percent of evidence kits HPD collects after rapes are untested

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than 90 percent of all evidence kits collected by the Honolulu Police Department after sex assaults have never undergone DNA testing, Police Chief Louis Kealoha told the Honolulu Police Commission on Wednesday.

Of the 1,512 rape kits collected since 1993, just 137 have been tested for DNA evidence, Kealoha said.

Assistant Police Chief Jerry Inouye said most rape kits weren't tested because the "priority was prosecution-based."

"Kits where the identity of the suspect has been known or the complaint has been withdrawn received a much lower priority," he said. "And many of those didn't get tested."

But that answer doesn't sit well for victims' advocates, who are pushing for across-the-board testing.

"The reason you test the kit even when the alleged perpetrator is known is in the mainland they have uncovered serial rapists and been able to close other cases," said state Sen. Laura Thielen, who is pushing for universal testing.

Advocates also point to studies that have found half of all sex assaults are committed by repeat offenders.

The HPD figures come more than a month after a state deadline requiring all sex assault kits collected into evidence be reported.

Under a bill signed into law this year, all Hawaii police departments were required to conduct inventories of their untested rape kits. In addition to the number of untested rape kits, departments are being asked to provide the dates the forensic evidence was collected.

The data is being provided to the state Attorney General's office, which will produce a report for the state Legislature in the upcoming session.

Figures previously released showed that the Kauai, Hawaii Island and Maui police departments have more than 600 untested rape kits altogether.

In the past, HPD has downplayed the issue of untested rape kits, saying many of the cases in which evidence wasn't tested have already been resolved.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, officials confirmed HPD's crime lab is capable of testing rape kits but overwhelmed by the sheer volume of DNA analysis that has to be done along with other responsibilities.

"One of the tasks of the new working group is to come up with a new set of criteria for the testing of incoming sex assault kits so that we don't fall into a backlog again," Inouye said.

HPD says its current plan to catch up with the backlog is to outsource testing.

Inouye says it takes about a week and costs around $1,000 to get DNA results back, but officials say funding can no longer be an excuse. State lawmakers have contributed $500,000 to the effort and for the first time, HPD has secured about $700,000 in federal funding on its own.

"I would say it's a lot more expensive to allow a serial rapist to remain at large," Thielen said.

Thielen added that jurisdictions with across-the-board testing have been able to increase the number of sex offenders prosecuted.

"One third of all offenders were basically equal opportunity rapists," she said. "They were raping across the board -- strangers, known people. We need to target those folks to protect victims from future incidents."

Sex assault victims must undergo a multi-hour, invasive procedure to collect the evidence needed for a sex assault kit. Yet on average, Thielen says, half of them don't follow up with charges.

In counties where rape kits are routinely tested, however, less than 4 percent of victims d rop their complaints, she said.

In a news release last week, the state Attorney General's office said that the Hawaii County Police Department had reported 309 untested rape kits. Sixty kits, meanwhile, had been tested for DNA evidence.

The oldest rape kit Hawaii County has in storage – which dates to 1998 – has not been tested.

Meanwhile, the Maui Police Department said it had 152 untested rape kits. Sixteen rape kits had been tested, MPD said.

Of the 166 rape kits, the oldest dates to 1999. It was submitted for testing in April 2000 and testing was completed in January 2001.

On Kauai, there are 151 untested rape kits, the oldest of which dates to 2001. Kauai police said 74 kits have been tested.

Copyright 2016 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.