In major policy shift, HPD plans to clear backlog of rape kits - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

In major policy shift, HPD plans to clear backlog of rape kits

(Image: Hawaii News Now/File) (Image: Hawaii News Now/File)
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Before the end of the year, Honolulu police officials say they plan to submit all untested rape kits in the department's custody that have been tied to reported cases of sexual assault.

While HPD did not provide Hawaii News Now with a specific number, officials say there are fewer than 300 unprocessed rape kits in storage facilities that are currently under the department's jurisdiction. They say each of them will be sent out for DNA testing within the next six weeks.

This marks a major shift in how the department has previously handled evidence in the aftermath of a reported sexual assault. The change in policy was spurred by public outrage and backlash following national reports indicating there were hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits collecting dust in storage facilities across the country. The sobering statistics led to questions here in Hawaii about our current numbers and ultimately resulted in a legislative audit that revealed a considerable local backlog.

Since 1992 -- when HPD first began collecting rape kits -- approximately 2,877 have been booked into police evidence. According to the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, or SAKI, report filed last December: of the 1,512 kits HPD collected between 1992 and June 30 of 2016, 137 kits had been tested -- resulting in a backlog of 1,375 kits that in some cases sat unprocessed for nearly 25 years. Hawaii News Now also later learned that 1,165 rape kits collected by HPD were destroyed.

However, over the last 18 months, HPD has sent nearly 832 rape kits for testing at mainland labs. Honolulu Police officials say new revelations about the importance of testing all collected rape kits -- regardless of whether they know who the suspect is -- has helped to guide their new policies along with suggested protocols established in the SAKI report.

Across the country, advocates have been pushing to test rape kits in every single case that sexual violence is reported and a kit is collected. National statistics indicate that nearly 40% of all sexual assaults are committed by serial offenders and the only way to make that connection is by running rape kit evidence through the FBI's offender database known as the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS.

It's unclear how many of the 832 rape kits HPD has submitted for testing since June 30 2016 have resulted in CODIS matches -- though officials say there are approximately two dozen hits that now need to be investigated.

HPD officials say the strides they've made in testing rape kits has largely been made possible through a $2 million federal grant.

At this time there is no Hawai'i legislation that requires all backlogged rape kits or newly collected rape kits be tested, and no mandated funding to ensure that police departments can continue to cover the cost of DNA screening. However, both Representative Linda Ichiyama and Senator Laura Thielen of the Hawai'i's Women Caucus say they are committed to fighting for comprehensive sexual assault reform during the 2018 legislative session.

Hawaii News Now reached out to all the county departments statewide for an update on the status of rape kit collection and testing since the December 1, 2016 SAKI report was filed — and Maui County was the only department that has not provided that information.

According to Kauai Police officials, between 1997 and 2017 the department has collected 226 rape kits and 132 have been sent for testing. Officials say this leaves 94 unprocessed rape kits in Kaua'i Police custody -- however, some of them are kits that were stored without any police report filed. As a result, Kaua'i PD officials say only 16 rape kits tied to reported sexual assault cases are still untested but will be sent to a mainland lab to run through CODIS by the end of this month.

As for Hawaii County Police, between 2001 and 2017 the department has collected approximately 405 rape kits and 204 have been tested or submitted for testing. In the last 18 months, 107 have been sent for testing and Hawaii County officials say 34 still need to be sent for DNA screening.

Maui County Police officials were the only ones in the state that could not provide Hawaii News Now with their most recent numbers. According to the SAKI report, 166 rape kits were collected by Maui police between 1999 and June 30, 2016. Of that number, only 16 were submitted for testing resulting in a backlog of 151 untested rape kits. In the last 18 months, Maui Police have sent 86 rape kits for DNA screening, leaving at least 65 rape kits unprocessed. However, it's unclear how many additional rape kits have been collected between June 30, 2016 and November 6, 2017.

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