Editorials

Clearing the backlog

TNS

Florida is about to take the job of tracking down rapists and putting them away much more seriously.

Hard to believe we’re writing those words in 2015.

But on Wednesday, Florida jumped to the front of the line in addressing the backlog of untested rape kits that contain DNA evidence, and that have been sitting unexamined in police-department evidence rooms across the state.

State Attorney General Pam Bondi should be praised for taking a leadership role on this important issue. At a news conference in Tampa, Ms. Bondi said she is committed to addressing this problem recently brought to light by a USA Today Media Network investigation.

Women, and men, who are sexually assaulted have been told for years of the importance of immediately reporting the crime, implored not to shower, even after being so violated, so that a sample of DNA their attacker left behind can be captured in a rape kit. But the network uncovered a dirty little secret: Those rape kits often sit for years, untested by police. At least 70,000 have been languishing across the country, untouched.

In Florida, there are thousands of unexamined rape kits spread out among five police agencies: Miami-Dade, Jacksonville, Hillsborough, Tallahassee and Polk County, putting Florida among the top 20 states not testing rape kits.

Ms. Bondi said she is committed to rectifying this — and issued a call to rape victims discouraged by the law-enforcement process. “If you are listening, and you are a rape victim, please come forward,” she said. “We will do everything we can to solve your case.”

Ms. Bondi said she wants all those dormant, but viable, rape kits submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for testing.

There might be hidden gold in those kits. Ms. Bondi rightly hopes they will solve many cold cases backlogged at various law-enforcement agencies in the state.

Testing sexual-assault kits will allow the DNA information they contain to be uploaded into state and federal criminal databases. They could help identify serial rapists and murderers who commit crimes across different jurisdictions.

“We have the potential to solve cold cases and lock up sexual predators and make Florida the safest place to live and raise a family,” Ms. Bondi said.

Ms. Bondi said there are many reasons for the backlog of untested rape kits: Law-enforcement agencies prioritize whether to send a homicide or rape case to FDLE for testing because it takes weeks to get test results; other times, the suspect confesses and enters a plea or the victim chooses not to prosecute.

In August, FDLE labs completed DNA tests in about 107 days. That’s far too long.

And, yes, all this new testing will cost taxpapers more. “It’s going to be millions,” Ms. Bondi said. “This is a huge undertaking, but you can’t put a price tag on it.” She’s right. These criminals must be taken off the street.

The state needs more DNA testing labs and a salary increase for lab analysts. Currently, FDLE has 193 crime-lab analysts positions and 69 senior crime-lab analysts positions.

Ms. Bondi said she’s going to advocate for more funding in the next state budget. Already the state has committed more than $300,000 to survey the backlog across the state. The Legislature is due to get the results in January. It will play a crucial role in allocating the funding. Let’s hope lawmakers take the issue as seriously as Ms. Bondi does.

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