Lawmakers address backlog of untested rape kits

Mary Hudetz
Associated Press
New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE — An estimated 5,000 untested rape kits are in New Mexico’s crime labs and warehouses, and it could take five years to work through the backlog, state officials said Monday.

New Mexico Public Safety Secretary Gregory Fouratt told the Legislature’s Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee during a hearing in Santa Fe that about 75 percent of the kits that haven’t been tested stem from Bernalillo County sheriff and Albuquerque police cases. About 31 law enforcement agencies in the state — most of them representing more rural areas — have not responded to the state’s initial request for the numbers of untested kits in the agencies’ jurisdictions, he said.

The cost for processing each kit can amount to as much as $4,000, and officials say about $8 million is needed over a roughly five-year period to make progress in diminishing the backlog.

“This is important, expensive science,” Fouratt said. “We do not have the scientific workspace to keep up with this state’s current forensic needs.”

The hearing on New Mexico’s untested rape kits comes as numerous states attempt to address how to decrease their backlogs.

DNA evidence such as pieces of hair or swabbings from a victim’s body are collected for the kits, and they can help investigators solve a crime or possibly link a solved case to other crimes. Test results are entered into a database that can lead officials to discover whether an assailant is a serial offender.

It can take hours to collect evidence after a crime is reported with a victim’s participation. Examinations that collect evidence for kits are typically lenghty and invasive.

“Part of the equation (of the justice system) is that when a woman or a man or a child couragously comes forward and has this examination done on him or her to collect evidence, he or she should be able to expect justice,” said Julianna Koob of the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault programs.

Koob is advocating that an additional $1 million be added to the state budget to fund crisis centers, which work with victims in more current cases.

Some of the cases in Albuquerque police’s backlog date back to the late 1980s — a time when protocal would have called for many of the rape kits to be discarded, said John Krebsbach, the crime lab director for Albuquerque police. “It’s something that truly, truly needs to be taken care of,” he said.