NAMPA –The Nampa Police Department plans to change the way it handles the sexual assault kits it collects.
An Idaho Press-Tribune story published Nov. 8 found Nampa Police had only sent in 10 percent of its rape kits, a number that was lower than neighboring agencies.
The Nampa Police Department collected 117 rape kits into evidence from Jan. 1, 2010, to Oct. 5, 2015. Of those, 12 rape kits were sent to a lab for testing.
Nampa Police Chief Craig Kingsbury said the numbers were “shocking” when he saw other agencies with a higher rate of submission.
Since 2010, at the Caldwell Police Department, about 54 percent of kits collected were sent in and tested. In the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office, about 52 percent of kits collected were sent in for testing.
Before the first article ran, Nampa Police had stated there would be a fee to the Press-Tribune for pulling all 105 files from untested kits. IPT was seeking an explanation as to why 105 kits were untested. After reading the articles, NPD staff pulled the files for free and reviewed every case to find a reason as to why each kit was not submitted.
“When I looked at those statistics, I had to ask myself 'why weren't we submitting them?'” Kingsbury said.
Of the 105 untested kits:
• 26 kits were not submitted per the victim's request
• 27 of the cases did result in an arrest, despite the kit not being tested
• 16 are being sent back to detectives for review of the case
• 7 kits were not submitted because police could not determine if the sex was consensual. Those kits would stem from cases where both the alleged suspect and the alleged victim say the sex occurred, but differ in their description of whether it was consensual sex.
• 5 kits were from another agency's investigation and NPD did not handle the investigation
• 8 kits stem from active cases
• 8 cases had prosecution declined due to inconclusive evidence making them unable to move forward
• 7 victims were not truthful or recanted their story
• 1 case was unfounded due to a medical issue
Kingsbury said they now plan to submit some of those kits after further review. He said although 105 kits were not submitted for testing, all of those cases were fully investigated by detectives and some did result in an arrest.
“We didn't shy away from prosecuting,” Kingsbury said about cases that never had a kit tested.
All kits in which the suspect was unknown have always been submitted, Kingsbury said.
In the past, Nampa detectives have not directly asked an alleged victim “do you want this kit tested?” Kingsbury said. Instead, they have worked with the victim on whether they wanted to prosecute.
Now that NPD sees how many kits are untested, Kingsbury said they plan to ask every victim if they specifically want their kit tested.
On Nov. 16, NPD had the Idaho State Police Forensic Services lab come to speak to the department about rape kits and the policies around submitting rape kits.
In Idaho, if law enforcement determines no crime has been committed or the case is no longer being investigated as a crime, the kit may not be sent to a laboratory for testing.
Additionally, kits are not submitted for testing if a victim decides he or she does not want the kit tested.
Kingsbury said he was unaware of the some of the lab's criteria for testing kits, specifically regarding reference samples, meaning DNA samples collected from a potential suspect.
Law enforcement is responsible for collecting any reference samples for the kit because those are not samples that would be taken during a victim's forensic exam.
Nampa Police does not currently collect data that is easily searchable on why a rape kit is not submitted for testing. To find why each rape kit was not submitted, officers had to go through every report individually.
Kingsbury proposed the option of implementing a new reporting process, even if it were something as simple as a checklist form stating if the kit was tested and if it wasn't, the detective would list a reason.
As vice president of the Idaho Chiefs of Police Association, Kingsbury hopes to ask officials from ISP's lab to come and speak about rape kit submission at the association's next conference. He said he has also reached out to the Idaho Sheriff's Association, encouraging it to do the same.
Multiple law enforcement agencies have said sometimes kits are not submitted for testing if the suspect's identity is not in question.
If a kit is not tested and the case is not prosecuted, the accused individual's DNA will never be entered into a database.
Even though that person may never be convicted or even charged, having DNA in a database is not public information. Kingsbury said he questioned what the harm would be in putting that suspect's DNA into the system in case that person were accused of another sexual assault against another victim. Entering the DNA profile into the database allows the lab to find matches.
As of September, the Combined DNA Index System had produced over 296,490 hits assisting in more than 282,175 investigations, according to the FBI's website.
According to FBI statistics on Idaho, there are 30,496 offender profiles entered into CODIS. There are 413 forensic profiles with no arrestee profiles.
Offender profiles would include convicted offenders, detainees and legal profiles at the National DNA Index System.
“The National DNA Index contains over 11,962,222 offender profiles, 2,120,729 arrestee profiles and 657,298 forensic profiles as of September 2015,” according to the FBI's laboratory services website. “Ultimately, the success of the CODIS program will be measured by the crimes it helps to solve. CODIS’s primary metric, the 'Investigation Aided,' tracks the number of criminal investigations where CODIS has added value to the investigative process.”
In Idaho, the only people who have access to the list of DNA profiles are DNA scientists at the state lab. If the lab were to find a match in its database regarding a sample, the scientist would then notify law enforcement with the suspect's name and profile.
There would be no way for law enforcement or any other resident to know if an individual's DNA was in the database.
It is similar to when a person is booked into jail and fingerprinted, those fingerprints remain nationally available to law enforcement but are not public information. Officers could potentially find a fingerprint at a crime scene and then find a match in the database of prints, therefore leading them to a suspect, Kingsbury said.
“The distinction (between DNA and fingerprints) is where society considers something invasive,” Kingsbury said. “Taking DNA could be considered invasive.”
However, when police started fingerprint suspects years ago, people initially thought that was invasive, he said. Now, everyone from teachers to day care owners are fingerprinted to get licenses. Those examples are in addition to people who are fingerprinted upon entering a jail.
In Idaho, any person convicted of a felony is required to submit a DNA sample. That law applies to all felony convictions, not just sex crimes.
Nampa Police Deputy Chief Brad Daniels said having that DNA in a national database could assist investigations by other law enforcement agencies, specifically cases where NPD couldn't prove whether the sex was consensual and therefore the case did not move forward.
“Maybe we couldn't help them,” Daniels said about unprosecuted sexual assaults. “But would it aid in the investigation of others?”
DNA evidence has also been proven valuable in recent cases of wrongfully accused defendants.
A man who had been imprisoned 16 years for rape and sex assault convictions was exonerated Monday and freed after DNA evidence linked the crimes to a serial rapist on the FBI's most wanted list, according to the Associated Press.
Luis Vargas, 46, who was serving a sentence of 55 years to life in prison for three sexual assaults, was ordered to be released from prison. Vargas was convicted of kidnapping, forcibly raping and sodomizing one woman and attempting to rape two others between February and June 1998.
The DNA evidence linked the crimes to the notorious Teardrop Rapist. The predator, known for a tattoo of a teardrop under his eye, has been linked by DNA to 11 crimes and is suspected of 35 in total across the Los Angeles area, the California Innocence Project said. Vargas has a similar tattoo.
In cases dating back to 1996, the Teardrop Rapist approached girls or women in the early morning walking to school or work, pulled a weapon such as a gun or knife, forced them to a secluded area and sexually assaulted them, according to the AP. The Teardrop Rapist still has not been identified.
LOCAL DNA CASES
One case Daniels cited where DNA evidence was useful included the murders of Nampa's Bob and Idella Young. Pete Kimball Roberts was convicted of brutally murdering the couple.
Roberts pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the couple's deaths. Bob was 82 when he was killed; Idella was 73. The Youngs were found bound and stabbed in their Nampa home on Dec. 29, 2003.
The circumstances of solving that case relied heavily on DNA. Daniels said NPD used a private lab to process all of the DNA in an effort to speed up the process. The investigation was unsolved for five years before Roberts was arrested in November 2008.
The case was based, in part, on DNA analysis linking Roberts to evidence at the crime scene. He was a former tenant of the couple, who rented out several homes in the area and were well-known in the local real estate community, according to previous reports.
While the expense of testing the DNA was heavy, Daniels said it was worth it. He stressed the cost of testing DNA is not a factor when police make a decision about submitting a rape kit for testing or not.
“That's the price of doing business,” he said. “We had tremendous support.”