FDLE: More than 1,000 SWFL rape kits, thousands statewide, remain untested

Reporter: Stanley B. Chambers Jr. and Lindsey Sablan
Published: Updated:

FORT MYERS, Fla. – More than 1,000 rape kits submitted to law enforcement agencies in Southwest Florida remain untested, part of the more than 13,000 untested sexual assault kits statewide, according to a report released by the state Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) on Monday.

Out of the 13,435 untested samples statewide, 9,484 should be tested, the report said. In Southwest Florida, 654 of the 1,048 untested kits should be tested, the report said.

The untested samples come as rape kits received by state crime labs increased nearly 141 percent over the past four years, the report said. Addressing the backlog could cost as much as $32 million and could take up to nine years, the report said.

Download and read the full FDLE rape kit report here.

Gov. Rick Scott, who was in Fort Myers on Monday to announce new jobs, said his budget includes $8.5 million to help with the backlog.

“I think everybody wants to do a better job,” he said. “I like the way FDLE did this, they did a very specific survey so we know exactly what the needs are, with options about how to make it happen.”

Addressing the backlog

The report outlined ways to address the backlog, including having some of the kits tested by an outside vendor.

“Proposals to test unsubmitted (sexual assault kits) are dependent upon additional funding for outsourcing, technology, overtime and a stabilized workforce of crime laboratory analysts,” the report said. “The most cost efficient and timely way to manage this backlog is through outsourcing a portion of SAKs, obtaining additional robotics through federal funding, and utilizing overtime funds to allow scientists to conduct technical review of these cases and upload them to the FBI’s National Combined DNA Indexing System.”

The report also offered a number of legislative solutions, including:

  • Legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to create policies and/or tracking systems for rape kits, which currently does not exist.
  • Standardized guidelines and procedures for collecting and submitting rape kits.
  • Policies requiring all rape kits to be submitted except for those obtained from a non-reporting victim, which is currently up to individual departments.

Advocates for testing unprocessed rape kits, including State Attorney General Pam Bondi, are pleased by the report.

“Testing these kits is a public safety issue that must be addressed, and in this upcoming legislative session, I will work with lawmakers, law enforcement and victims’ advocates to ensure our state crime labs have the resources needed to continue testing unprocessed sexual assault kits,” she said in a statement.

Jennifer Benton, chief executive officer of Abuse Counseling and Treatment, Inc., which serves sexual assault and domestic violence victims in Lee and Hendry counties, believes the report will provide piece of mind to rape victims.

“This has been talked about for years throughout the nation and to see it actually being done, I know it’s going to take a lot of time to process the backlog, but it’s good,” she said. “This is really going to give the victims a great piece of mind.”

SWFL Breakdown

Most of the rape kits untested by Southwest Florida law enforcement agencies are those officials say should be tested:

  • Cape Coral police – 65 not submitted for testing.
  • Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office – 45 not submitted, 83 should be tested.
  • Collier County Sheriff’s Office – 40 not submitted, 10 from non-reporting victims.
  • DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office – 9 not submitted for testing.
  • Fort Myers police – 92 not submitted, 25 should be tested, 25 from non reporting victims.
  • FSW State College Department of Public Safety – 1 kit from a non-reporting victim.
  • Hendry County Sheriff’s Office – 63 not submitted, 48 should be tested.
  • Lee County Sheriff’s Office – 498 should be tested.
  • Naples police – 6 not submitted, 2 from non-reporting victims.
  • North Port police – 3 not submitted, 3 from non-reporting victims.
  • Punta Gorda police – 2 not submitted, 1 from a non-reporting victim.
  • Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office – 89 not submitted, 7 from non-reporting victims.
  • Sarasota police – 108 not submitted, 5 from non-reporting victims.

Acradia police, Venice police, Florida Gulf Coast University police, Glades County Sheriff’s Office, New College of Florida police and Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority police did not report any untested kits.

Other area law enforcement agencies, including Clewiston police, Sanibel police and Marco Island police, did not respond to the survey.

Kits that “should be submitted” are those that, under each agency’s guidelines, should be tested. Reasons why a kit wasn’t submitted for testing include the victim not wanting to proceed with the investigation (41 percent), state prosecutors declining to prosecute (31 percent), the suspect pled guilty (20 percent) or the kit was collected from a non-reporting victim (18 percent), according to the report. A non-reporting victim is someone who has a rape kit completed but does not file a police report.

While an alleged sexual assault victim may not want a rape kit tested, the report recommended that all kits should be tested “in the interest of public safety.”

Rape kits made up majority of DNA testing (33 percent) in state crime labs in 2015, the report said. Most other testing was done for burglaries (29 percent), assaults/robberies (16 percent) and homicides (11 percent).

The report also highlighted an effort in New York City in 2000 where authorities tested 17,000 unsubmitted rape kits, resulting in over 2,000 DNA matches and 200 cold case prosecutions.

“In each of these cases, the testing took several years to accomplish and outsourcing was a major contributing factor in the ability of these entities to continue working their daily caseload while managing the testing and processing of backlogged untested SAKs,” the report said.

FDLE, in cooperation with the Florida Sheriff’s Association and the Florida Police Chiefs Association, developed the online survey for law enforcement agencies to self-report their untested rape kits. Between August and December, 69 percent of the state’s police departments and every sheriff’s office responded to the survey. The responding agencies represent 89 percent of the state’s population and account for 91 percent of rapes reported in Florida in 2014.

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