A fascinating USA Today/TEGNA investigation reveals that law enforcement across the nation failed to test 70,000 packages of DNA and other evidence in rape cases. By their numbers, Atlanta police have only three of these, but I happen to know that the problem is much larger than they say.
USA Today’s project is an unprecedented look into the problem of untested rape kits, which is extremely hard to quantify. The kits they counted are locked away in police evidence rooms because investigators failed to send them to forensic labs for testing. This problem is in large part a legacy of sexist attitudes among law enforcement officers that advocates have been fighting for decades. Detectives failed to treat victims (many of them women) seriously, or blamed them for the assault. In certain cases, they opted against testing the DNA because it is expensive, or because victims were reluctant to cooperate with the investigation. But the problem is that this evidence, if stored properly, never expires. If tested, it could reveal serial rapists or identify patterns of sexual assaults.
There is no national system to track these kits, so to count every one that is being held in an evidence room, reporters would have to call each of the 18,000 or so law enforcement agencies across the U.S. That’s a nearly impossible task. USA today and its partners, including Atlanta TV station WXIA, contacted 800 of them.
Counting untested kits in police evidence rooms is crucial, but the approach doesn’t begin to capture the scope of Atlanta’s problem. Some 1,500 of them never made it to police custody because they’re locked away at Grady Memorial Hospital, according to my Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation. The hospital, which is home to the sole rape crisis center for Fulton’s nearly 1 million residents, failed to give them over to police because they didn’t call police. Grady officials believed privacy laws blocked them from doing so. Evidence I found shows that they were wrong.
These kits are still locked away in a hospital storage room. It could take a court order for Grady to release them for testing. Stay tuned.