(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) The St. Joseph Police Department sent 127 untested rape kits held in storage to a private forensic lab for testing, officials said.
Missouri began testing its 6,800 untested rape kits sitting last month, according to Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office.
Rape kits, or sexual assault kits, are forensic exams and evidence gathered from a victim's body, clothes, and personal belongings. The kit contains a checklist, materials, and instructions, along with envelopes and containers to package any specimens collected during the exam.
The SAFE Kits Initiative, funded by a $2.8 million grant provided by the Federal Bureau of Justice Assistance to former Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office, was launched by Schmitt in January 2019.
“SAFE Kit testing has been an issue here and across the country for many years, we appreciate the opportunity to work with Attorney General Schmitt and his staff on the SAFE Kits Initiative in Northwest Missouri,” said St. Joseph Police Chief Chris Connally.
The latest batch of 127 kits was sent from the St. Joseph Police Department. The agency collected kits from law enforcement agencies in Riverside, Maryville, Brookfield, Hamilton, and the local Sheriff’s offices.
The initiative utilizes larger metropolitan law enforcement agencies to become the central collection office for smaller agencies in the area. This framework provides a streamlined process, structure, and documentation which will also help in the prosecution of rape cases, according to a news release from Missouri AG’s office.
Last month, roughly 100 kits from the Springfield area were the first group of kits sent to a private lab for testing.
Law enforcement in the Joplin region followed shortly after.
“The SAFE Kits Initiative is using a private lab to ensure that kits are tested expeditiously and to not overwhelm the Missouri State Highway Patrol crime lab with a large influx of kits,” the release said.
The next anticipated host agency will be the Columbia Police Department.
The lab testing is the final phase of a three-part plan outlined by the Missouri AG’s office released last year to tackle the state’s backlog. Schmitt previously stated the $2.8 million grant was only enough funding to test roughly a quarter of the 6,800 rape kits.
On average, it costs between $1,000 and $1,500 to test one kit, according to the End the Backlog campaign.
The attorney general’s office is also working on developing an electronic tracking system for kits, according to the statement.