Omaha police get $1.9M grant to test sex assault kit backlog
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — An estimated 1,500 sexual assault kits that were booked into evidence at the Omaha Police Department remain untested, but a $1.9 million federal grant aims to help clear the backlog.
The new funding from the national Sexual Assault Kit Initiative will allow the Nebraska State Patrol’s crime lab to test the kits starting this January.
Omaha police are currently figuring out which kits haven’t been tested. Some date as far back as 1998. Officials blame the backlog on outdated best practices, victims who couldn’t be located, questions about consent and other factors.
“Chances are very good that if you didn’t work with an investigator, the kit was not tested,” Omaha Police Lt. Tracy Scherer said. “We’re still learning so many things about what (sexual assault) does to victims and what the best practices are. We’re trying to do the best things that we can for the victims as we learn the best practices.”
The initiative aims to encourage law enforcement and support groups to work together to add information to state and federal DNA databases, make arrests and offer support to rape survivors.
“We’re hoping that we can find offenders linked to cases that were never charged before or that we made arrests on before,” Scherer said.
The Women’s Center for Advancement in Omaha plans to notify survivors and offer assistance when testing begins in 2019. The Women’s Fund of Omaha is also working on the initiative.
Some of the grant funding will be used to hire a prosecutor to handle cases stemming from the testing old sexual assault kits, according to Chief Deputy Douglas County Attorney Brenda Beadle.
“It is frustrating, knowing that many are untested,” Beadle said. “Because I’m sure out of all of those, it’s going to generate (criminal) cases and, hopefully, justice.”