Springfield Police Department clears its backlog of rape kits
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The Springfield Police Department announced it cleared out the backlog of rape kits, leaving zero untested sexual assault kits in their inventory.
The department worked with the Missouri Attorney General’s SAFE Kit Initiative. At the start of the SAFE Kit Initiative, the Springfield Police Department had 231 untested sexual assault kits in their inventory. Working with the Attorney General’s Office, the department shipped the last 15 untested sexual assault kits to the lab.
“Now that we have cleared our backlog of sexual assault kits, we can move forward in these investigations and help survivors of sexual assault in Springfield seek long-awaited justice,” said Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams. “Staff at the Springfield Police Department, specifically those in our Special Victims Unit and property room, have worked tirelessly to ensure that this process was handled with meticulous care. I appreciate and recognize their dedication. Our progress also would not have been possible without support from the Springfield City Council and funding provided through the attorney general’s SAFE Kit Initiative.”
The SAFE Kit Initiative was launched by Schmitt in February of 2019, aiming to clear the backlog of untested sexual assault kits in the state of Missouri. Relying on federal grant funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the initiative worked to complete a comprehensive inventory of untested sexual assault kits and began shipping those kits to the lab to be tested with the first shipping event occurring at the Springfield Police Department in December of 2019. Those shipping events continued throughout the pandemic and across the entirety of the state. In October of 2020, Schmitt announced an additional round of federal grant funding requiring the office to complete a second inventory that covers all previously tested and untested kits in the state before any funds can be spent on testing additional kits.
“As a husband, father, and as Missouri’s Attorney General, ensuring that victims of these violent and vicious crimes obtain the justice they deserve – our SAFE Kit Initiative aims to do exactly that. Since launching the initiative in 2019, we’ve made significant progress in working to clear the backlog of untested sexual assault kits. So far, we’ve shipped over 2,101 kits to the lab to be tested, resulting in 155 CODIS hits and 35 criminal referrals. These are encouraging numbers, but my Office will not stop until every police department has cleared out their inventory of kits,” said Attorney General Eric Schmitt. “One of our great partners in this initiative has been Chief Paul Williams and the Springfield Police Department, and Chief Williams and his department have done just that – completely cleared out their inventory of untested sexual assault kits, a huge accomplishment that should be celebrated. Today is an important day for the victims of these crimes, and a milestone on our quest to clear the backlog of untested sexual assault kits once and for all.”
The state’s total inventory is expected to be completed in January of 2022. While the second inventory is underway, Schmitt asked the legislature for additional state funds, separate from the federal grants, to continue to test kits. The legislature appropriated roughly $2.6 million in state funds, on top of the federal grants already secured, to aid in continuing to ship and test kits. The Office then quickly, and aggressively, sought bids and signed contracts with several private labs across the country to add even more testing ability. To date, the SAFE Kit Initiative has shipped 2,101 kits to the lab to be tested. Federal funding covered the shipment and testing of 1,501 kits, and state funding covered the recent shipping of 600 additional kits. When the Attorney General’s Office receives DNA results back from the lab, it works with the Missouri State Highway Patrol to upload that information into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. When there are CODIS hits, the AG’s Office works to make referrals to local law enforcement and prosecutors. Some fast facts on the SAFE Kit Initiative to date:
- 2,101 kits have been shipped to the lab to be tested
- Of those 2,101 kits shipped, 963 have been returned with DNA results. Out of the 963 that have been returned with DNA results: 352 were eligible for CODIS upload; 272 kits were not eligible for CODIS upload, likely due to the DNA found being that of the victim, the DNA belonged to a consensual sexual partner or the DNA profile was not strong/complete enough to be uploaded to CODIS; 339 kits returned negative results, which means that no DNA profile was found.
- Out of the 352 that were eligible for CODIS upload, 155 CODIS hits were returned, meaning the DNA uploaded to the database matched DNA that was previously uploaded.
- The Attorney General’s Office has made 35 criminal referrals to local prosecutors across the state and will continue to make referrals wherever possible.
The Attorney General’s Office will continue to hold shipping events to continue to get kits to the lab. The office estimates that the second round of federal grant funding will cover the shipment and testing of roughly 900 kits, and the new state funding will cover the shipment and testing of roughly 1,100 kits.
Attorney General Schmitt said the backlogs of untested kits are not unique to Missouri. It is a nationwide trend, which the Victim Center of Springfield says can be damaging to those who have been sexually assaulted.
”Potentially, it could be perceived as a sign that they were not really believed,” said Brandi Bartel, the Executive Director of the Victim Center. “Or that their case wasn’t important.”
Schmitt said the state’s goal is to help get answers for those victims who still have not yet received justice.
”We want to do everything we can to support you and to prosecute the person who has committed a really terrible and violent act,” he said. “My hope is that it will provide closure for a lot of victims out there that thought their case was forgot about.”
For the victims themselves, Thursday’s announcement offers hope.
”I hope then that there is some justice served for at least one person,” she said. “At least one more person and multiple people across the state are helped and one less victim that is suffering in silence or not believed or just waiting feeling like they’re just a statistic or a number.”
However, Bartel said there is still work to be done.
“[There is] an ongoing need for awareness and education,” she said. “Because justice is still not served for every victim. That is still out of reach for many people, either because they don’t feel comfortable participating or reporting a crime to law enforcement or to the criminal justice system perhaps because of fear, but also because there is a sense that they would be blamed and shamed for what they experienced. So it’s really important that our society get to a place where we can hold offenders accountable and that there is justice served.”
Bartel also said it is important for many victims to know there are available resources for legal services, mental health support and counseling. The Victim Center provides several of these types of services.
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