Davis to Law Enforcement: Report Rape Kit Backlog

A Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit
A Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and the Department of Public Safety are sending a reminder message to Texas law enforcement agencies: They must follow a new state law requiring them to report their backlog of untested rape kits. 

Under SB 1636, which Davis authored last session, law enforcement agencies were supposed to report by October a list of criminal cases for which they didn't have the resources to test sexual assault evidence. Some of them have not done so. 

In a memo sent to law enforcement agencies on Tuesday, Davis urged them to comply, saying it was necessary to give the Legislature a "clear understanding of the size of the backlog" so that lawmakers can determine how much money needs to be spent clearing it. 

At a Wednesday press conference, she said law enforcement agencies do not need to spend money they don’t have testing backlogged rape kits — they just need to turn in their cases. “In fact, the law explicitly states that the untested rape kits will only be analyzed as funding is made available,” Davis said.

Davis' plea isn't the first time law enforcement agencies have been hounded about following the new rule. DPS sent law enforcement agencies information explaining the reporting requirements in August and again earlier this month — well past the law's deadline. So far, more than 12,000 untested rape kits have been reported to DPS, with more than 100 law enforcement agencies responding, DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said, adding that he expects that number to rise. 

The new law, which Davis introduced in response to news that tens of thousands of rape kits were sitting untested in evidence storage rooms, requires police departments to submit a rape kit to a crime lab within 30 days of determining a sexual assault has occurred, and run DNA analysis within 90 days of a sexual assault being reported. To the extent that funding is available, the bill also requires testing of untested rape kits in active cases since 1996. 

At the Wednesday press conference, Davis also spoke in support of a bill introduced on Thursday by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, called the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry Act, which would commit more federal money to states to reduce rape kit backlogs.

"We hope Washington, D.C. will follow the bipartisan effort that I was proud to lead in the Texas Legislature,” Davis said, “and will do the right thing for thousands of victims of these horrific crimes, who are still waiting for justice to be served and for their attackers to be put behind bars.” 

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