FDLE releases plan to catch up on rape kit testing

By News4Jax.com Staff , Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Monday asked for millions of dollars to pay for overtime and outsourcing to private labs to process the 13,435 untested rape kits in the state.

Of those kits awaiting analysis, more than 1,300 are from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and other law enforcement agencies in Duval County -- the third highest number of any county in the state. About 100 more kits are awaiting testing are from other northeast Florida agencies, the majority of those from St. Johns County.

The results of rape kits could convict accused criminals of sex crimes.

"That's a stunning number," State Attorney Angela Corey said. "When we first heard about this issue, we were all surprised by it."

The FDLE's assessment said its labs have seen a 141 percent increase in submission of rape kits over the past four years and 83 percent in the last year and that analyzing these sexual-assault kits takes more man-hours in the lab than any other types of cases.

The FDLE estimated the cost of catching up the backlog to be between $9 million and $32 million and that it could take three to nine years.

FDLE assessment of untested rape kits in state

“I am pleased FDLE completed its assessment, providing more information about unprocessed sexual assault kits in Florida," Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a statement released Monday. "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."

Last November, Bondi urged lawmakers to increase funding for crime labs in order to test the kits, saying it was crucial for those untested rape kits to be tested so cold cases could be solved and sexual predators locked up. 

State Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, is angry about the backlog. She has already filed House Bill 179 calling for counties to submit rape kits for testing within 21 days and directing the FDLE to submit their own plan for clearing the backlog by October.

"Yes, it will pass," Adkins said of her bill, adding that Monday's FDLE report makes the case why it should. "We really can’t identify any situation where it’s not appropriate to test the kit. I think it’s important we move this legislation through and appropriate necessary dollars to test the kits."

Adkins is also pushing to have the testing of all backlogged kits completed by June 2017.

"It’s common sense that when this evidence is collected, it’s a reasonable expectation they would do something with it," Adkins said. "(That) it would be tested.”

Last spring, information about thousands of other untested rape kits in other cities and states across the nation was released. President Barack Obama and Congress have set millions of dollars aside to help cities test older rape kits. Officials with FDLE said they are requesting those funds to help the state with its forensic needs.

Corey’s office has worked to get federal funding to run rape kits through testing, and said that’s one part of solving the crisis across Florida.

In terms of the backlog, Corey said technology surpassed law enforcement.

"It's just the nature of it, and I'm sure the same thing happened way back when fingerprints were discovered, and DNA is a lot like fingerprints," Corey said. "It's only as good as your ability to prove that it should not have been there. And that's what helps you prove your case. So we just have to catch up, and we will (with) sheer hard work."

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams issued a statement backing plans to seek grants to help speed up the testing process.

“We continue to work to seek justice for the victims of sexual assault in Duval County," Williams said. "Our untested rape kits continue to be submitted at a rate that can be accommodated by the laboratories, while also ensuring the results are investigated and prosecuted within the allotted statutory period of time."

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