NAMPA — The Nampa Police Department has decided to send in for testing about 90 previously untested sexual assault evidence kits the agency has in its possession, dating back about five years.
A series of stories by the Idaho Press-Tribune last year showed that 105 rape kits collected into evidence by the Nampa Police Department were never submitted to a lab for testing.
A public records request by the paper found that, from Jan. 1, 2010, to Oct. 5, 2015, the Nampa Police Department had collected 117 rape kits into evidence.
Of those, 12 rape kits had been sent to a lab for testing. A kit not being tested does not necessarily mean the case wasn’t investigated or prosecuted.
Nampa Police Capt. Brad Daniels said that after learning of the 105 untested kits, the department agreed to send in about 90 of them to the FBI lab in Virginia. The department will send in 30 kits at a time, with the first batch being sent out in April.
The Idaho State Police Forensic Services lab in Meridian does most rape kit testing in the state, but ISP has used the FBI lab for assistance in criminal evidence testing, like many other states, in an effort to reduce backlog. Daniels said NPD is sending these kits to the FBI lab in an effort to not overload the Meridian lab all at once.
The current policy on rape kit testing in Idaho states that there are two reasons a rape kit may go untested. First, if the victim requests his or her kit not be tested, and second, if law enforcement determines no crime has been committed.
Daniels said the kits that the Nampa Police Department is not sending in for testing are those that meet those two exemptions.
Following its investigation of local law enforcement agencies, the Press-Tribune, in 2015 and 2016, filed public records requests with 22 law enforcement agencies around the state asking for the number of rape kits the agency collected versus the number of kits sent to a lab by that agency. The Nampa Police Department had the lowest rate of submission. Rape kit testing rates and responses to records requests varied widely among other agencies across the state.
For example, in an approximate five-year timeframe, Meridian Police submitted about 80 percent of collected rape kits for testing while Pocatello Police submitted about 26 percent of kits collected.
Following the Press-Tribune’s investigation, a bill was brought before the state Legislature that would mandate law enforcement track the number of collected rape kits as well as the number that go untested.
House Bill 528, introduced by Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, passed both the House and the Senate unanimously and has been sent to the governor to be signed into law. The governor has not signed it yet.
The bill would not mandate that all kits be tested, but if law enforcement detectives determine no crime has been committed and choose not to test a kit, a county prosecutor must sign off on the decision.
The legislation would also mandate that if law enforcement chooses to test a kit, the agency must deliver it to the lab within 30 days. The lab would then have 90 days to test the kit and enter any discovered DNA codes into a national database.
The state’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee approved, 15-4, to allot $222,300 to ISP’s lab with the bill. Additionally, every year after the first year, if the governor signs the bill, $207,300 would be needed to support the legislation.
That money would pay for the lab to hire additional staff for DNA analysis.
When the articles on rape kit testing in Canyon County published in November, the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office reported collecting 46 kits into evidence from Jan. 1, 2010, to Sept. 30, 2015. Of those kits, 24 were sent to a lab and tested.
Of the 22 kits not submitted by the sheriff’s office as of November, two cases were referred to another agency, five had no charges filed, four were determined by law enforcement to be unfounded, four kits were not submitted per the victim’s refusal and seven cases are pending.
On Tuesday, the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office released a formal statement saying that, in anticipation of the new legislation, the sheriff’s office has created a tracking system in which all sexual assault kits, new and old, are being tracked.
“This will allow us to re-evaluate our 11 outstanding kits, although at this point we don’t anticipate submitting them for testing because either no charges were ever filed in the case or the allegations were determined to be unfounded, or because the victim refused to have the test submitted,” according to the sheriff’s office’s statement. “Outside of the new tracking system, we don’t expect the legislation to have a significant impact on our current testing procedures — which are already done in close conjunction with the (Canyon County) Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.”
Attempts to contact the Caldwell Police Department for this story were unsuccessful.
The Caldwell Police Department reported last year the agency had collected 79 rape kits into evidence from Jan. 1, 2010, to Sept. 30, 2015. Of those kits, at the time of the report, 37 were sent to a lab for testing, 10 were sent but not tested, 26 were never sent and six were currently at the lab.