HPD destroyed hundreds of untested sex assault kits

Published: Oct. 10, 2016 at 9:05 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 11, 2016 at 1:34 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - At a Honolulu Police Commission meeting last week, Chief Louis Kealoha said that more 90 percent of HPD's 1,512 sex assault kits in evidence had never been tested for DNA evidence.

The full story is worse, Hawaii News Now has learned.

Sources say that since the early 1990s, HPD has actually collected 2,677 rape kits. Of those 1,165 have been destroyed -- and 96 percent of those that were discarded were never tested.

Sex assault victims must undergo a long, invasive procedure to collect the evidence needed for a rape kit. And nationally and locally, advocates are calling for across-the-board testing of the kits.

Police Commissioner Loretta Sheehan said the new numbers show "the problem is bigger than we thought it was."

Sheehan is upset that HPD withheld the actual number of kits destroyed and only provided the number of kits in evidence. She calls it a play on words.

"It's disappointing," she said. "I feel that they were less than candid with the legislature and less than candid with the police commission."

Sex assault kits help police departments produce a suspect's DNA profile to be run through a national database. That DNA evidence can then be compared with cases in other counties and states.

Victims advocates say this is important because a significant portion of rapists are repeat offenders.

"One third of all offenders were basically equal opportunity rapists. They were raping across-the-board: strangers, known people," said state Sen. Laura Thielen, who has called for universal rape kit testing in the islands.

When Hawaii News Now asked about the 1,165 destroyed kits, HPD said they were only discarded if the case had already gone to court, if HPD got permission from prosecutors, or if the statute of limitations on the assault had passed.

Many of the kits were destroyed before Kealoha became chief. And other county police departments have destroyed some, too.

But Sheehan said HPD not revealing the full scope of the backlog makes her suspicious.

"What's really concerning to me is this, if they're willing to do this word play on the issue of what constitutes a backlog, then I'm concerned that they're doing word play on cases that were discharged," she said.

Under a new law, all county police departments are required to report the number of kits they have, but were not required to report how many were destroyed.

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