Today’s Texplainer is inspired by a question from Texas Tribune reader Lisa Charlton.
Hey Texplainer, why don’t local police departments pay for rape kit testing?
The cost and backlog of untested rape kits in Texas have long been a source of debate, including during the 85th regular legislative session.
Thousands of rape kits remain untested in the state, mostly because of a lack of funding to process them. These kits, gathered by police through hours-long, invasive exams of sexual assault victims, cost anywhere between $500 and $2,000 to test, state Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, said during the session.
The Department of Public Safety reported a backlog of 20,000 untested rape kits ahead of the 2013 session, and lawmakers pumped $11 million into addressing it. But more than 3,500 of those identified kits are still untested — meaning they haven't been analyzed in more than five years. The agency has not updated its statewide rape kit backlog data since then, meaning there are probably even more untested kits in Texas today.
But there’s no rule on who foots the bill to test rape kits across the country — it depends on the state and city you live in, according to Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy for the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization focused on eliminating the rape kit backlog.
The money to test rape kits could come from state, local or federal sources. According to Knecht, putting the costs on local police departments can be challenging because they usually don’t have enough money to test all of the kits, forcing them to pick and choose.
"I think [having local police departments pay for rape kits] has historically been part of the problem with why rape kits haven’t been tested in a swift manner,” Knecht said.
Some police departments in Texas have received grants to address the backlog. Last year, Dallas County received a $1 million federal grant to test rape kits. In 2015, the city of Austin received $2 million from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to test 3,070 kits.
The amount of state funding for rape kit testing in Texas differs per biennium as well. When writing Texas' next two-year budget during its regular session this year, the Legislature approved providing nearly $4 million in state funds to test newer rape kits, helping to ensure that the cost of these kits falls on the state rather than local police departments.
This past regular session, Texas lawmakers moved forward with another option to address the backlog: crowdfunding. House Bill 1729, authored by Neave and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in May, gives those applying or renewing their driver’s license an option to donate $1 or more toward rape kit testing.