Throughout August, The Texas Tribune will feature 31 ways Texans' lives will change because of new laws that take effect Sept. 1. Check out our story calendar for more.
Thousands of evidence kits collected from rape victims that have sat untested for years in Texas can now be analyzed, thanks to an $11 million budget appropriation earmarked for the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The line-item financing disbursement was passed as part of the state’s biennial budget during the regular 83rd legislative session. It follows the 2011 approval of related legislation filed by state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.
Senate Bill 1636 requires that the DPS or a contractor test and keep information on forensic sexual-assault evidence that the department has received from other law enforcement agencies but has not been submitted for analysis, provided financing is available.
SB 1636 also requires that when requested, the department compare results from a newly tested rape kit with DNA information in the department’s custody.
The number of untested kits is unclear. Advocacy groups say that about 16,000 kits are sitting on shelves, according to data submitted by 136 law enforcement agencies across the state. But the DPS estimates that the number is closer to 20,000. Department officials say their information comes from various law enforcement agencies, which may use different formulas to determine how many kits they have, thus leading to a discrepancy.
|Agency||Estimated No. of Untested Kits|
|Houston Police Department *||6663|
|Dallas Police Department||4144|
|San Antonio Police Department||2077|
|Fort Worth Police Department||1018|
|Amarillo Police Department||950|
|Austin Police Department||407|
|Travis Co. Sheriff's Office||365|
|Killeen Police Department||233|
|Corpus Christi Police Department||207|
|Lubbock Police Department||205|
|Midland Police Department||197|
|Harker Heights Police Department||152|
|San Angelo Police Department||138|
|Victoria Police Department||107|
|McAllen Police Department||102|
|Williamson County Sheriff's Office||85|
|Conroe Police Department||75|
|Pasadena Police Department||67|
|Odessa Police Department||60|
* The Houston Police Department said it will conduct the testing of its 6,663 kits through a combination of outsourcing and in-house analysis.
The untested kits have collected in police evidence rooms amid tight budgets, overworked crime labs and, in some cases, the determination by some law enforcement agencies that there was insufficient cause to test a kit.
Tom Vinger, a department spokesman, said untested kits were not analyzed for several reasons, depending on what an individual law enforcement agency’s criteria were. The bill does not affect evidence gathered before September 1996.
The financing is a welcome start that will go a long way, supporters say.
“Without a doubt, there will be cases solved that were previously unsolved,” said Torie Camp, the deputy director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. “Ten to 30 percent will come back with a positive hit.”
A positive hit could lead to the identification of a person whose information is in the database or it could point to a specific suspect.
The DPS estimates that at least half the kits will yield evidence that could be used to solve crimes.
While the financing is a step toward resolution for many victims of sexual assaults, Camp said it was only one part of the puzzle.
“We’re creating a new backlog of more cases,” she said. “The best way to say this is, this is just the first part of the backlog.”
Similar efforts have yielded positive results.
The Fort Worth Police Department received a grant in 2003 that allowed it to test unanalyzed rape kits. It yielded 214 matches in an FBI DNA database, resulting in the identification of three suspects who were later accused of being serial rapists, according to the Texas Senate Research Center.
|DPS Lab Region||Estimated No. of Untested Kits|
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.