The Phoenix Police Department has made significant changes to their protocols for testing DNA in rape cases after an ABC15 Investigation exposed thousands of Valley sex crimes had untested evidence.
"Does it assist us in solving crimes? Absolutely," said Commander Sandra Renteria, who oversees Phoenix's sex crimes bureau. "So, it's very important."
After sex assaults, victims are given an examination and swabbed all over their bodies to collect any DNA that may have been left behind by the attacker.
The evidence is stored in what's often called a rape kit or sexual assault kit.
In November, the ABC15 Investigators exposed there were at least 3,000 rape kits in the Valley that had never been tested.
Because of our investigation, Phoenix promised to review the department's untested kits.
Renteria told the ABC15 Investigators that her detectives reviewed more than 1,000 untested kits from cases dating back to about 2001.
Our investigation found Phoenix had almost 1,600 kits that had gone untested since 2001, which was the year Phoenix first started tracking the kits.
Following our report, Phoenix officials said they sent untested 218 kits to the city's crime for the first time. They also significantly changed their protocols so that more kits will be tested in the future.
"The hope is being to process those, it will be able to help us solve current crimes, a current sexual assault, or potentially a future one," Renteria said.
In the past, Phoenix police said they would typically only test rape kits in cases involving unknown suspects and victims who desired prosecution.
But now, the department will also test kits in cases involving:
- Victims who can't be located or contacted after the rape is reported and the suspect is unknown and used physical force or kidnapped the victim.
- Victims who do not desire prosecution but the suspect is unknown and the circumstances indicate a "plausible" story.
- Victims who can't be located or contacted after the rape is reported but the suspect appears to be targeting victims (drugging, date rape, etc.)
- Victims who are unsure if a sexual assault has occurred and the suspect denies any sex occurred.
The newly tested kits have not resulted in any new arrests yet.
"More than anything, we formalized our process of when we are going to be submitting kits," Renteria said.
But while victims and advocates say Phoenix police have taken a step in the right direction, they say it's still not enough.
"With a large number of untested kits, I think you're looking at a jurisdiction that's really not responding effectively to sexual assault," said Sarah Tofte, a national advocate with the Joyful Heart Foundation.
Tofte believes all kits should be tested, and that's because she points to research that shows most rapes are acquaintance rapes and many rapists are serial rapists.
Phoenix police officials stand by their policies and don't believe every kit requires testing.
"We are very comfortable that every kit that has evidentiary value in the investigation , all of them are being tested," Renteria said.
Other major U.S. police departments have adopted a test-all policy or have cleared their entire rape kit backlog, including New York, Los Angeles and Detroit.
In Colorado, lawmakers just passed a new law that would require every kit in that state to be tested.
The ABC15 Investigators took our investigation to Arizona lawmakers . A few said they would consider introducing legislation to address the issue this year. They didn't.