(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Shelves full of untested rape kits have been sitting in evidence labs across Missouri, untouched, for years. That is, until this week.
The attorney general has implemented his Safe Kits initative; an initiative that sends untested rape kits to a private lab for testing.
The Safe Kits initiative is split into three phases to minimize the amount of rape kits the private lab will test at one time. This week, 127 rape kits were collected from the St. Joseph Police Department and smaller agencies from the surrounding Northwest Missouri area to be sent for testing.
Once the testings are complete, the St. Joseph Sheriff's Department believes the results could possibly link perpetrators to different sexual assault cases across county lines.
“It’s essential to get these rape kits tested. Before, money and protocols and unknown suspects and all those things, limited what kits could be tested. Now with this new project, there proceeding with testing these kits which there could be links and codus which would then identify suspects in maybe similar crimes. So, it’s going to be a huge asset for not only our community, but the state of Missouri and maybe tie some of these cases together,”said Sheriff Puett.
The Safe Kits initiative is also creating a new system for how rape kits are processed and handled.
A system that officials say is more effective than the previous.
“With the new initiative, there’s a 14 day directive. That means once the kit is taken, the hospital has 14 days to get it to us and then the law enforcement has 14 days to get it to the lab. So, the system is already fixed, not that it was broken. I’m not saying that. But every kit is going now,”said Paul Gatewood, evidence control technician.
Now every rape kit taken will be tested. Officials say they are hoping the initiative helps bring closure for sexual assault survivors.
“I’m kinda hoping that this opens the eyes to say hey, not just law enforcement but the community as a whole is doing a whole lot more now to help you out and give you the resources you can to get through this and get the closure you need,”said Gatewood.
With more than 300 pending untested rape kits, officials say this $2.8 million initiative will not be done overnight.
“It’s going to take a few years to get through all these kits because if you think about this, so we just sent these out this week...in a perfect world, three months they will be tested and I will have them back. That’s in a perfect world. But you understand that they first picked up from Springfield and then Joplin and now us. So you know that lab has a hundred and something kits, two hundred and something kits and now mine. So, you’re talking at minimum a year in a perfect world,”said Gatewood.
Officials say the attorney general is applying for another grant to continue this initiative to make sure every untested rape kits or previously tested rape kits are tested correctly.