Governor Doug Ducey believes Arizona’s rape kit backlog is an injustice that has allowed criminals to evade prosecution for too long and now requires executive and legislative intervention.
“We think it’s an injustice,” Ducey said in an exclusive interview with ABC15 investigator Dave Biscobing. “These predators are out on the street, they are committing multiple crimes, there are multiple crimes that can be solved if we have this information."
It’s the governor’s first interview on the issue since he vowed to investigate and clear the rape kit backlog during his State of the State address.
On Jan. 11, Ducey also issued an executive order (available below), establishing a task force to develop a plan to count, track and test untested kits.
“People can’t understand how there can be a backlog this large,” Ducey said. “It’s really the duty of elected officials and law enforcement to fix it."
HOW BIG IS THE PROBLEM?
ABC15 first exposed the number of untested rape kits in the Valley with a series of investigative reports in 2012. At the time, the station uncovered there were at least 3,000 untested kits.
It’s likely there are thousands more across the state.
“When you’re looking at a jurisdiction with a large number of untested kits, I think you’re looking at a jurisdiction that’s really not responding effectively to sexual assault,” Sarah Tofte, an advocate for the Joyful Heart Foundation, in a previous interview with ABC15, said.
Watch ABC15’s 2012 investigation below:
ABC15 found almost every Valley police departments arrest rates for sex crimes lagged behind national averages, especially when compared to departments that aggressively test rape kits.
Governor Ducey said he learned about the rape kit backlog after he was told about ABC15’s investigation and other media reports highlighting the severity of the backlog.
“I saw some of the reports, and I said to my staff, ‘How could this be true?'” Ducey said.
The governor also met with state Senator Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, who’s unsuccessfully tried to get the legislature to pass a bill in recent years that would require Arizona police departments to audit their number of untested rape kits.
Hobb’s bill was largely ignored by her Republican peers at the Capitol.
But in his State of the State address, Ducey demanded that lawmakers take action after his task force identifies the size and scope of the problem.
“I want a plan, to be followed by legislation, that requires every rape kit to be investigated,” Ducey said during his address.
In the four years since ABC15’s investigation, there have been 16 states whose lawmakers have taken some level of action to count and/or clear rape kit backlogs.
After ABC15’s 2012 reports, some police departments promised to test more of their kits and look through old cases. In at least once case, an arrest was made.
According to the governor’s office, current estimates place the number of untested rape kits in Maricopa County at 2,300. Some advocacy groups believe the total number across all of Arizona could top 4,000.
Ducey told ABC15 that state’s current situation is unacceptable.
“If we have victims out there, and we have municipalities and law enforcement agencies that aren’t acting on information that can deliver a higher level of public safety and justice, that is something we need to deal with,” Ducey said.
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at firstname.lastname@example.org.