Lawmakers, law enforcement take action after ABC15 rape kits investigation

Police officials and lawmakers are taking action after an ABC15 investigation exposed thousands of rapes kits left untested by Valley law enforcement.

There are nearly 3,000 sexual assault kits that have never been sent for DNA testing in police storage facilities Valley-wide. Victims, advocates and experts say that's leaving suspected rapists on the street.

The numbers had state legislators from both parties concerned.

The Maricopa County Attorney admitted that testing those kits could lead to more arrests, prosecutions and convictions.

"This is very concerning for me," said Rep. Katie Hobbs, a Phoenix Democrat. "What this backlog of DNA kits says is that your cases are not a priority for us, and it's not a priority for us to investigate them."

The ABC15 Investigators spent four months working to uncover the number of untested kits from every police department in the Valley.

After filing dozens of public records requests and reviewing hundreds of pages of documents, we discovered most departments do not specifically track this information.

POLICE DEPARTMENTS RESPOND

For the first time, five police departments dedicated time and resources to determine how many of their kits are untested.

Those departments were Apache Junction, Tempe, Glendale, Peoria and Surprise.

In Glendale, officials said they shut down their evidence room and did a hand count to get us answers.

Phoenix police officers, the state's largest department, are reviewing 1,587 untested kits since 2001 to ensure that all of those kits held no evidentiary value to the case.

"We requested a review by our detectives," said spokesman Sgt. Trent Crump. "We've also got to do our best to make sure that we haven't overlooked anything."

Crump did not provide a timeline of how long it would take to complete their review and wouldn't say if the department would take any action.

"We're going to continue to maintain what it is that we are doing," he said.

In Mesa, police officials said that they are reviewing their policies.

In a written statement, a spokesperson said, "As a result of your inquiry, leaders from Investigations, Evidence, and The Forensic Lab have scheduled a meeting to discuss and evaluate if any changes are needed to our current policies and protocols."

In Apache Junction, the police Chief said he's sending untested kits to the state's crime lab to be analyzed.

"It made us look at what we were doing," said Chief Jerald Monahan in an interview with ABC15. "There's value in considering, case by case, testing every kit."

TO TEST OR NOT TO TEST

Most Valley police departments told ABC15 that they do not think it's necessary to test every sexual assault kit they collect from a victim. Kits do not need to be tested in cases of acquaintance rapes, in which consent is the issue, they said.

In those cases, they believe that testing the DNA is not necessary because the identity of the alleged offender is already known.

But most victims and advocates strong disagree with that point of view. Without testing those kits in cases, they argue, police miss the chance to track serial rapists.

Chief Monahan agrees.

"That offender may have other victims out there that we're not aware of," he said. "We track criminals. We want to be aware of criminals' activity, so that's of value of us."

Testing kits in acquaintance rapes is something County Attorney Bill Montgomery admits could lead to more arrests and prosecutions.

"If we get one more conviction out of it because we were able to test one more kit, I think that's a good investment," he said.

LAWMAKERS LOOKING AT SOLUTIONS

After reviewing our findings, two of state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, Rep. Katie Hobbs and Sen. Linda Gray, are ready to take on this issue.

"I would hope for the woman's sake, when she's willing to come forward, that each one of those kits would tested," Gray said.

Hobbs echoed Gray's concerns.

"When they find out that the evidence they provided isn't even being looked at, it just makes it that much harder and that much more difficult for victims to come forward and report these crimes," Hobbs said. "It says to victims, we are not concerned about these crimes."

During our investigation, a common response from police was that it's too expensive to test more kits and it would cost taxpayers money.

The ABC15 Investigators learned testing a kit can average $1,000.

"My answer to that is victims are taxpayers too," Hobbs said.

"I wouldn't buy that it's too expensive," Gray said. "An excuse of not enough money with the trauma that a woman goes through, I don't like us going down that route."

Sen. Gray told ABC15 that she is bringing our investigation to a national group of women legislators to examine the issue on a larger scale.

Rep. Hobbs also said she's considering every option.

"There's a lot of legislative options," she said. "I definitely want to sit down and look at what's going to be the best way to address the issue."

"We could look at requiring that they do test all

of them," Hobbs said.

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