The state’s top law enforcement agency does not know how many untested rape kits remain in crime labs and hospital storage rooms across Missouri.
But they have six months to find out.
Attorney General Eric Schmitt tapped Judge M. Keithly Williams to be the state coordinator of the newly-established Sexual Assault Kit Initiative. The program is funded by a $2.8 million federal grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, applied for by the previous state Attorney General Josh Hawley.
Schmitt says his office will hire staff, who have six months to determine how many rape kits remain untested in order to get the remaining 75 percent of the grant.
Williams says this inventory will be very different than the previous “suggested” inventory of 5,400 samples.
“When that inventory, or that suggested inventory, was discovered, about 40 percent of the agencies actually responded to the survey and about 40 percent of the hospitals responded to the survey so we actually don’t know what we’re going to find when the inventory begins,” Williams said Wednesday.
“This inventory will be very different. It’s not just calling and asking ‘how many do you have?’ We’ll actually be helping law enforcement and the hospital staff do a physical count, record the information, have it prepared to put in a database so we will know precisely the location of each untested kit and we’ll know where to begin our task.”
Schmitt says part of the process is finding out from law enforcement why there’s a backlog. Late last year, CNN highlighted the Springfield Police Department for destroying older, untested rape kits.
“We really do want to work in a cooperative way. Testing takes money and that’s part of this grant process too,” he said. “It takes an incredible amount of courage for a victim to come forward and submit to this test–and they deserve to know answers.”
Once they build a database, those involved in a rape case should have access to the information they need: hospitals, police departments and victims who can look up the status of their individual case.
“This is really an ongoing process, we haven’t yet started the planning,” Williams said. “I suspect it’s going to take years, to be honest. It’s a long-time coming.”