- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - About half of the rape kits collected by Portland police during a 29-year span have never been submitted to the state crime lab for testing.

With federal money now available to tackle the backlog, the Portland Police Bureau and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s office are applying for a share to help fund more detectives, a prosecutor and crime lab workers to get the untested kits finally processed.

Brenda Tracy and Danielle Tudor, two rape victims who have been pressing Oregon lawmakers to extend the statute of limitations for rape and to investigate the scope of the state’s rape kit backlog, said other cities in Oregon should do the same.

“If a person has been raped and they go through a rape exam, they deserve to have that kit processed,” Tudor said Tuesday. Otherwise, it sends a message to victims of “why bother” coming forward and reporting the crime, she said.

Tudor was 17 when serial rapist Richard Troy Gillmore, the so-called “Jogger Rapist,” sexually assaulted her on Nov. 11, 1979, in her Southeast Portland home.

Since Brenda Tracy first revealed her story to The Oregonian about how four football players allegedly took turns raping her on June 24, 1998, she said she’s been speaking out to encourage other victims to report attacks to police.

“But how can I say, ‘Please go get a rape kit,’ if nothing is going to happen with it?” Tracy said.

In March, Vice President Joe Biden announced $41 million would be set aside to help clear the country’s massive rape kit backlog. Biden deemed the effort “the single best expenditure we can initiate to prevent crime in addition to solving crime.”

Biden was referring to the estimated 400,000 untested rape kits around the country. Police agencies often cite lack of resources and personnel as the largest barrier to processing more rape kits, but inattention to certain cases or unwillingness to prioritize these cases also contribute to the backlog, national observers point out.

On Wednesday, Portland police asked the City Council to apply for a three-year, $2 million federal grant through the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative to address the untested rape kits. The grant would run from Oct. 1, 2015 through Sept. 30, 2018.

According to Chief Larry O’Dea, the bureau found 3,835 sexual assault kits in its property evidence division collected between 1985 and 2014. Of that, 1,931 kits had never been submitted to the crime lab for testing. Between 2004 and 2013, the Police Bureau submitted about 36 percent of the sexual assault kits to the state crime lab, or about 800 of 2,186 kits.

A city audit in 2012 identified the inadequate processing of rape kits by Portland police as a problem. At that time, the audit recommended that the city pursue federal grant money to allow faster processing of its DNA evidence at the state crime lab and adopt guidelines for which kits should be submitted to the lab.

The problem was thrust into the spotlight when detectives struggled to solve the Dec. 13, 2001, rape and killing of 14-year-old Melissa Bittler, and police pored through old sexual assault cases and discovered the backlog. DNA evidence from two other rapes of Portland teenagers in 1997 had not been submitted to the lab. Once they were, they matched Bittler’s attacker.

In the Police Bureau’s grant application, the bureau proposes creating an Unsubmitted Sex Assault Forensic Evidence Task Force led by police Lt. Dave Meyer. The task force would include one Portland police detective, a victim’s advocate, a police administrative specialist and members from the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office and the Oregon State Crime Lab.

Grant money would help allow city and sheriff’s office to use one or more private forensic labs to analyze as many of the kits the task force can afford to submit for testing. The state crime lab would receive results from the private lab, do a “peer review” of the lab’s work and enter eligible data into a national database, called the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS.

The task force also would set up a hot line and email account for victims of sexual assault to connect to the task force and check on their sex assault kit findings or status of their investigation. The grant money also would cover training for police sex assault investigators, prosecutors and advocates who work with sex assault victims to stay current on national best practices on investigations and advocacy response.

The Police Bureau began in January 2014 submitting more of its sex assault kits to the crime lab based on a new, written standard.

“This was done in an attempt to eliminate any victim bias that may have been present,” O’Dea wrote in the bureau’s grant submission.

The new standard sets a scale for examining kits based on the crime: Stranger-on-stranger rapes get the highest priority, followed by cases with a known suspect and that involve violence, cases with a known suspect who has a history of violent crimes, cases with a known suspect with no force or history of violence, cases previously declined for prosecution and cases beyond the statute of limitations.

The bureau accepts into evidence about 250 to 300 sex assault kits a year.

After January 2014, the bureau submitted about 52 percent, or 129 of its 245 eligible kits to the state crime lab. The added number of kits submitted, however, increased the turnaround time for testing by three to four months, police said. By May 1, the bureau expects to submit 100 percent of its sex assault kits, according to the grant application.

Without the added grant money and ability to pay a private lab to test the kits, the state crime lab would be inundated and push the “turnaround time” for kit tests to well over a year, according to Portland police.


Information from: The Oregonian, https://www.oregonlive.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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