- Associated Press - Sunday, October 25, 2015

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - There’s a backlog of thousands of untested sexual assault kits, but not in Rhode Island - a distinction that prompted a prominent advocate for sexual assault victims to say the state’s forensic biology laboratory is a model for the rest of the country.

Peg Langhammer, executive director for Providence-based Day One Sexual Assault and Trauma Center, says she’s proud of the Rhode Island lab’s work.

“They never lose sight of the priority and that’s the victim,” she said. “They’ve always been committed to ensuring evidence is preserved and tested with the highest standards and in a timely manner.”

The White House and New York City’s district attorney pledged a combined $79 million in September to test sexual assault kits nationwide. An estimated 70,000 kits sitting in laboratories and evidence collection rooms across the country will be tested to cut the backlog of untested DNA evidence in 27 states.

Experts estimate that hundreds of thousands of these kits remain to be tested across the country.

Rhode Island does not have a backlog of sexual assault kits, according to Cara Lupino, the forensic biology lab supervisor at the state health laboratories.

The lab has tested between 120 and 150 kits annually in recent years. It takes an average of 30 days to process a kit and issue a report after a test is requested, Lupino said.

The National Institute of Justice defines a backlog as evidence that was submitted to a crime lab and remains untested after 30 days.

Rhode Island’s current processing time is down from an average of six months about five years ago. It used a federal grant to pay an additional forensic scientist to analyze DNA and restricted the number of pieces of evidence that can be submitted for testing in all cases, though it makes exceptions.

“Anything they do to reduce that lapse of time is a huge assistance to police departments in pursuing leads when they’re still fresh,” said Richmond Police Chief Elwood Johnson.

Hospitals send kits directly to ensure they reach the lab and they’re stored properly, Lupino said. Police departments in other states hold on to kits while deciding whether to request DNA testing and authorities are now trying to locate all of the untested kits.

Though there is no testing backlog in Rhode Island, the lab does possess untested kits that are kept in storage for various reasons. Sometimes law enforcement agencies close the investigation or don’t request testing because the suspect claims the contact was consensual.

The Rhode Island lab isn’t testing any stored kits that haven’t been requested by a police department, Lupino said.

It wouldn’t have a police department to relay the results to and it couldn’t enter the results into a criminal justice DNA database without police involvement, she said.

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