Nearly half of Idaho’s alleged sexual assault victims who underwent a forensic exam after reporting their case to authorities never had those results submitted to a lab for testing.
That’s according to new information gathered from law enforcement agencies across the state, showing that about 44 percent of rape kits conducted in Idaho never got tested.
Findings of an audit published this month by the Idaho State Police Forensic Services shows that as of mid-December, at least 1,116 of the so-called rape kits were still sitting on shelves in police stations big and small across the state, with at least one untested kit dating back to 1990. Overall, the audit accounted for 2,538 rape kits altogether across the state, from departments in towns like Wilder to bigger cities like Nampa and Meridian.
The audit was performed to comply with a law passed in the 2016 Legislature and signed by Gov. Butch Otter in March.
Attention in the statehouse this year followed a 2015 investigation by the Idaho Press-Tribune that showed that the testing of rape kits varied dramatically among different law enforcement agencies. For example, the newspaper reported that the Nampa Police Department had tested just 10 percent of its kits, while the testing rate for the Meridian Police Department was 80 percent. In many police and sheriff departments, decisions whether to test kits were made by just one ranking officer, the newspaper reported.
In the wake of the legislative changes, law enforcement agencies are now required to track why a kit was not submitted to a state or federal lab for testing. The law also mandated that each agency submit to an audit, performed by ISP’s Forensic Services staff, on all untested kits.
In Idaho, a rape kit is used to gather DNA evidence from individuals who report and then consent to undergoing a testing process that includes swabbing the body, clothes and other personal items. Other potential evidence, including documents and photographs of injuries can be added to the kit. Any DNA evidence collected during that process can be used to convict or acquit a suspect.
In cases when kits are submitted for testing, any DNA evidence can be entered into a national database and then cross referenced with other DNA samples already in the system. Each sample can also checked against an individual if police already have a suspect.
Before Idaho lawmakers required the audit, few knew how many rape kits fell into the untested category or why some kits were submitted to labs and other were not.
The audit released by ISPFS last week showed that 219 kits are currently in the process of being tested and another 541 are set to be tested. Of those marked for testing, state officials anticipate that at least 240 will be tested by an FBI lab in the next year.
For law enforcement, testing DNA samples, logging that information into the database and matching evidence to alleged assailants can be a critical to helping prosecutors make their case in court.
For a little more than two years, state officials have been working on a separate project focused on processing untested kits by sending them to an FBI lab. As of Dec. 21, 30 of the 246 Idaho kits tested by the FBI have produced matches in the national DNA sample database, according to Matthew Gamette, director of ISP forensic lab. The database includes DNA samples from individuals accused of rape, convicted felons or DNA found at other crime scenes. The state lab reported that six of the cases with DNA matches have provided definitive information that has aided investigators in other cases, Gamette said.
In addition, five of the DNA matches cited by the FBI were to an unknown or new suspect, meaning an individual who is already in the database but not yet implicated by police. One hit was connected to evidence found in another rape case and the suspect is unknown, meaning the case could represent a suspect who has committed multiple sexual assaults. Fourteen of those hits are from a previously identified suspect and one of the 30 matches applied to an ongoing Nampa Police Department investigation
Overall, the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System includes 12.6 million offender profiles, 2.5 million arrestee profiles and more than 744,600 forensic profiles. As of November, CODIS produced more than 355,535 hits assisting in more than 340,554 investigations.
Idaho’s audit showed varied responses among agencies across the region. For example, police departments in Boise, Twin Falls and Nampa had the highest numbers of untested rape kits in the state. Changes in the state law also require that all rape kits be tested unless a victim specifically declines or if investigators determine that no crime was committed. As a result, agencies are responding:
- Boise’s audit found 125 untested rape kits, of which 96 still require testing.
- Nampa’s audit found 95 untested rape kits, of which 81 still require testing.
- The Twin Falls audit found 115 untested rape kits, with just four still in need of testing.
Nampa Police Lt. Eric Skoglund, who took part in the department’s audit, said the high number of kits in need of testing is due to language in the new law clarifying kits that must be tested. Up to this point, Skoglund said police had not been asking for victim input.
Skoglund said the number of cases that were no longer being investigated as a crime are rare, as are false reports. For some cases, there may not have been enough evidence for a prosecutor to file criminal charges, but the now now requires that even those kits be tested. Nampa’s oldest sexual assault kit dates from a 1990s investigation, Skoglund said.
The agencies that have hits after FBI rape kit testing included Boise Police, the Ada County Sheriff’s Office, Idaho Falls Police, Nampa Police and Meridian Police.
ISP’s Forensic Services lab also began training in the use of the Idaho Kit Tracking System, or IKTS.
The system will track every rape kit from collection to storage and make available on a secure website detailed information on the status of a rape kit to stakeholders, victims and victim advocates, Gamette said.