Washington gets $750,000 grant to test backlogged rape kits

March 20, 2019

A federal grant will help Washington law enforcement officials put a dent in a large backlog of untested sexual assault kits, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Tuesday.

Ferguson’s office estimated the Washington State Patrol, which runs the state’s two crime laboratories, will be able to test about 1,150 kits with the $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.

That would be about 17 percent of the 6,725 untested kits the attorney general’s office has counted across the state.

When that inventory was first announced in October, Spokane-area law enforcement agencies appeared to have a disproportionate share of untested rape kits. However, the Spokane Police Department said it had made headway in testing its 884 backlogged kits, and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich disputed the accuracy of the attorney general’s numbers, saying the sheriff’s office already had sent all of its kits to a state crime lab.

According to Tuesday’s announcement, the WSP will contract with private labs to analyze DNA from backlogged rape kits, then seek reimbursement from the federal funds.

The grant supplements money allocated by the Legislature in 2015 to clear the backlog, as well as a previous $750,000 grant the attorney general’s office used to assemble a special team for the project.

Rape kits are collections of evidence collected by nurses from the bodies of people who have been raped. Sometimes, they are critical for identifying and prosecuting sex offenders, though police say there are some good reasons for leaving them untested, including cases where the suspect’s identity is not in dispute.

“Every sexual assault kit is a story that needs to be told,” Ferguson said in a news release. “Testing the kits not only honors the courage of survivors, but also identifies serial offenders who might otherwise go free.”

Some of the untested kits are decades old. The attorney general’s office pointed to recent success in a Seattle in which a man was convicted of child rape 10 years after the crimes.