Untested Sexual Assault Kits to Receive Attention

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has been awarded a grant to assist in alleviating a backlog of approximately 2,200 un-submitted rape/sexual assault kits that are awaiting testing.

Oklahoma City and Tulsa Police Department crime labs are separately responsible for a total of about 4,800 kits that need to be tested.

The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, which is administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance is designed to help law enforcement process rape kits more efficiently, including “the performance of an inventory of all un-submitted SAKs in the jurisdiction’s possession (excluding SAKs already submitted to the crime lab) regardless of where they are stored (police evidence facility, hospital, and other relevant locations) and the tracking of their progress from testing through final adjudication.”

OSBI Criminalistics Investigator Mistie Burris said the grant will allow for the hiring of five new staff members to assist with processing previously untested kits. An audit conducted by order of then-Governor Mary Fallin in 2017 identified about 2,200 kits collected by various local law enforcement agencies that need to be tested by the OSBI.

The audit showed a total of about another 4,500 kits needing to be tested by the Oklahoma City and Tulsa Police Department crime labs.

Burris said that the OSBI, along with the forensic labs of the Oklahoma City and Tulsa Police Departments, have agreed to the use of one type of kit. According to Burris, each agency previously used different kits.

All kits will be tested except those in which a victim for whom a kit has been prepared but may not wish to make a police report, or in cases where a victim has made a police report but does not wish to follow up with prosecution, according to Burris.

Each kit, Burris said, will have a barcode which will be given to victims so they may track their kit’s progress on the OSBI website.

Edmond Police Department Detective Jimmy Gwartney said the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) has Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner nurses who are trained to process and submit rape kits.

“[SANE nurses] conduct the exam, and once that’s done they process all the evidence, bag it up and then contact our patrol officers, and they bring it back to the station and book it in, and then within 20 days we’re required to submit it to OSBI for testing,” Gwartney said.

Burris and Gwartney both said that, in all instances, kits will still be stored by local law enforcement agencies for 50 years.

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