- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - New Orleans police say that only about half of more than 400 untested rape kits may need testing.

In a Saturday news release, police Superintendent Michael Harrison said that the department is storing 220 of 429 kits. Most of the stored kits are from people who got tested by medical personnel but declined to get the police involved.

The untested rape kits were disclosed during a New Orleans City Council hearing Thursday that examined failings in the department’s handling of rapes and child abuse. They can be important elements in an investigation, especially when a victim is attacked by a stranger and DNA is essential.

“We are committed to clearing the backlog of sexual assault kits that require testing once and for all and we are actively putting systems of accountability in place to ensure it never happens again,” Harrison said in a statement.

He said in the release that in 2010, the city decided to store kits indefinitely in case a victim wants to seek prosecution later.

Of the 220 kits that the police department says it doesn’t have to test, 130 are in cases when people declined to press charges. There are 16 in completed homicide investigations, 12 where the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office is the lead investigator, 35 where investigations have been completed and 25 in cases where a person was found not to have been sexually assaulted. Two are for incidents in Jefferson Parish.

The remaining 209 need to be tested or need further investigation.

In November, a scathing city inspector general’s report found that five detectives in the sex crimes unit failed to do substantial investigation on more than 1,000 sex crimes and child abuse cases between 2011 and 2013. Those detectives and two supervisors have been removed from the unit. In one example, the report found one detective allegedly closed with minimal investigation the case of a small child taken to a hospital due to an alleged sexual assault even though the child also had a sexually transmitted disease.

Since the report’s release, Harrison and Mayor Mitch Landrieu have promised to clean up the unit. On Thursday, Harrison said detectives from the special team had identified 101 overlooked cases that need to be “actively investigated.”

This is not the first time the police’s handling of sex crimes has been found lacking.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice found there was a backlog of more than 800 rape kits sitting untested with New Orleans police detectives. After that, and as part of a wide-ranging consent decree with the Justice Department, police worked through that backlog and made dozens of arrests by matching DNA profiles with those of offenders in an FBI DNA database.

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