Chief talks about rape kit backlog

HOUSTON - The chief of the Houston Police Department talked Thursday about the backlog of rape kits that need to be tested.

Local 2 Investigates was the first to report thousands of rape kits were sitting in the HPD's crime lab waiting for testing. According to department records, the oldest kit in the lab dates back to 1986.

Rape kits can contain crucial pieces of evidence needed to convict rapists and bring justice to rape survivors.

"From a personal standpoint, I would like to see every sexual assault kit in our custody tested," Police Chief Charles McClelland said.

Those words from the chief came after an on-going audit found the number of untested rape kits may have swelled to more than 6,000. However, the department is not even certain of that number.

McClelland blamed part of this problem on "poor record keeping," explaining the department is finding some kits listed as untested may have actually already been tested. 

"I don't want to put a number out there, but out of the 6,000, when we examine every single one, yes, we're going to find some have been tested," said McClelland.

McClelland also said not all of the kits may need testing.

"Should you test every single kit in your custody that we've had or kept or maintained? This is what researchers are trying to come up with an answer," said McClelland.

McClelland explained some kits involve cases where a rapist has already confessed to the crime, the statute of limitations has run out, there is no evidence to be tested or contain evidence collected before DNA testing was available. 

McClelland could not be specific as to how many of the untested kits fall into one of these categories.

A pair of grants are helping HPD tackle this problem. Part of the work involves researching not only how many rape kits actually need testing, but also how HPD can prevent this problem from happening in the future. Work being done under a National Institute of Justice grant should be completed by the end of this year, and, once the work is complete, HPD expects to have an exact count as to how many rape kits need to be tested.

"The only thing that will test every single sexual assault kit in our custody at this time is money and resources," said McClelland.

However, when asked if he was going to ask City Council for more resources in the crime lab, the chief said he wouldn't have an answer until the research was complete.

HPD officials estimate the department receives an average of 930 rape kits every year with 60 percent of those kits containing biological evidence.

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