Thousands of untested rape kits are sitting in evidence lockers across the state and Governor Doug Ducey wants to change that. He announced Wednesday the members of a new task force to address this issue, including Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall.
While other Arizona counties are struggling with a backlog of untested rape kits, Pima County is mostly caught up.
The Pima County Sheriff's Department spent two weeks last year reviewing more than 500 sexual assault cases. That process resulted in detectives re-opening 14 cold cases and having those rape kits sent out to the lab.
"I think it's important for the public to understand that any case like this is taken very seriously by any agency doing the investigation," said Detective Robin Crehan with PCSD.
The 556 cases involved in the review process dated back to the 1980s. Crehan says various factors determined what cases would be tested. For example more than 100 victims were uncooperative and chose to not have a rape kit done while 22 victims recanted their original report. And more than 150 cases were already resolved and did not require any testing.
Because they did this review process, PCSD says it is caught up on sexual assault cases and does not have a backlog.
"We wanted to ensure that because there are currently more cases like this coming to light that we were on top of our inventory of cases and reports and did it in a quality control environment more than anything else," said Crehan.
The 14 re-opened cases are currently going through the testing process, that can sometimes take up to 90 days.
Tucson Police currently has more than 1,700 untested rape kits but the department says none of those cases involve unknown suspects.
"They may be kits from cases where the perpetrator has been identified," said Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall. "We know who the person is and there has been a confession from that individual or there is a consent defense."
Tucson Police also stressed that if any report comes in involving a sexual assault with an unknown suspect, that rape kit is sent out immediately and expedited.
Compared to Pima County, Maricopa County currently has more than 2,300 untested rape kits.
LaWall says ideally, there shouldn't be any untested rape kits in Pima County and that's what she hopes this new task force will address.
"We have standards and protocols, we know what needs to be tested, the criminalists know how to do it, it's just something that we need more resources in order to keep up with the demand," she said.
Ducey established the task force by executive order on January 11. According to a press release from the governor's office, the task force will provide legislative recommendations to ensure every kit is tested in a timely manner, develop a statewide standard process for testing protocols of the kits, develop a statewide tracking system for the kits and develop a public education plan to assist sexual assault victims.
Along with LaWall, these are the members of Ducey's Arizona Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit Task Force:
- Mark Brnovich, Arizona Attorney General
- Representative Kate Brophy McGee, Arizona House of Representatives
- Colleen Clase, Arizona Voice for Crime Victims
- Christina Corieri, Office of Governor Doug Ducey
- Sherriff Mark J. Dannels, Cochise County Sheriff
- Jessie Delmar, Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety
- Senator Katie Hobbs, Arizona State Senate
- Jessye Johnson, Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence
- Todd Larson, Honor Health
- Senator Debbie Lesko, Arizona State Senate
- Representative Phil Lovas, Arizona House of Representatives
- Myriah Mhoon, Governor's Office of Youth, Faith and Family
- Colonel Frank Milstead, Department of Public Safety
- Bill Montgomery, Maricopa County Attorney
- Sheila Polk, Yavapai County Attorney
- Mary Roberts, Phoenix Police Department
- Pete Wingert, Paradise Valley Police Department