State hopes to clear out remaining backlogged rape kits by the end of the year

A new bill making its way to the US Senate could provide more funding to states like Washington to finally clear out backlogged rape kits that have taken years to process and review.  

In November, Washington still had thousands of outstanding kits.  

The Washington State Patrol said now the state crime lab is closer than ever to clearing out the backlog with around 3,000 left to go. Any money the state might get could help to speed things along and keep turnaround times low for the new kits coming in. 

"Back in 2017, it was estimated there were roughly 12,000 kits out there that had not been tested," said Chris Loftis, the director of communications with Washington State Patrol. 

Loftis said the state has come a long way from the 12,000 kits that sat untested on evidence shelves six years ago. In November of last year, the number of kits waiting for testing and review had been cut in half to around 6,000, and this month, he said it's dropped even further. 


Ending the backlog: How Washington state is working through thousands of untested sexual assault kits

The problems first surfaced publicly in 2014 when a non-profit founded by Law & Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay began sending public disclosure requests to police agencies across the country.

"You are looking at roughly somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 that are in the process somewhere, but all of them are in the process," said Loftis. 

He said testing picked up after the state increased capacity by opening a lab in Vancouver a few years ago.  

"We are 80% there as far as the capacity for that training of the new folks," said Loftis.  

New technology has also helped to cut down the turnaround time for new tests coming in. In the past, Loftis said it would take around a year to get results back on a rape kit test. Now, the turnaround time has been cut to around 45 days. 

"Robotics have turned this into a 24/7 operation as opposed to just when the scientists were sitting at their desks," said Loftis   

US Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington has also recently helped to introduce legislation reauthorizing the Debbie Smith Act through 2029.  It would provide state and local law enforcement agencies with more resources to continue to reduce the backlogs in analyzing DNA evidence from untested rape kits. It was originally signed in 2004, and was reauthorized in 2008 and 2014. 

In January, the Washington State Patrol posted online that there were 1,473 kits that were collected after July 2015 that still needed testing. 

Loftis said the state's goal is to get the backlog eliminated once and for all in 2023. 

"We are at about 90% of the historical kits that have been sent to us, that have gone through the process, and have received the testing that is necessary and have gotten the evaluation. We are quite confident by the end of this calendar year, the residual of that will be down to zero," said Loftis. "We are talking a matter of months now, we have been talking a matter of years for a long time, so that speaks a lot."