CLEVELAND – Police agencies across Ohio have sent more than 2,300 untested rape kits to a state crime lab for testing that could potentially help solve hundreds of sexual assault cases, some dating back decades.
Attorney General Mike DeWine encouraged Ohio’s nearly 800 law enforcement agencies to clear their testable sexual assault evidence off shelves in December 2011 following media reports that many kits remained in storage.
An analysis of data from the Ohio attorney general’s office indicates police departments statewide could face about 850 potential cases resulting from DNA matches when all currently submitted kits are tested, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported Sunday.
Officials say some reasons older kits were not tested include costs, protocols limiting what was tested and a lack of understanding about the value of DNA evidence.
Nearly half of the kits submitted came from the Cleveland police department, which could have about 390 potential cases when all the currently submitted data is tested. Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath said he plans to add up to two more detectives to the unit handling those cases and get assistance from the FBI, if needed.
Matches don’t automatically mean a rape case is solved, but they can give detectives investigative leads, confirm original suspects or identify serial rapists. Officials also point out that some of the older rape cases could run up against a 20-year statute of limitations that would prevent prosecuting those cases.
DeWine helped secure federal funding in 2003 to help departments catch up with testing the kits. He estimated then that there were 3,000 kits going back to 1993 to be tested. He called it “infuriating” that victims were enduring rapes and intensive examinations to gather evidence – only to have it sit on shelves.
Now, with Cleveland alone announcing it had more than 3,700 untested kits going back as far as 1991, DeWine said that “it’s sad that we are still trying to catch up.”
DeWine says the state crime lab now is processing up to 100 kits a month. Of those tested by the state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation & Identification, 103 had useable DNA evidence and DNA from 65 matched with DNA profiles now in state or federal databases. But more investigation will be needed to see whether the evidence can help solve cases or not.
Toledo Sgt. Tim Campbell said that city’s police department had sent 215 kits as of Wednesday.
He said following up on matches may involve locating a victim and getting another sample from a suspect to compare to the kit’s DNA.
“It may be a lot of work, but we have to do it,” he said.
Akron police also are preparing for the work they expect to come from the more than 300 kits they have submitted going back to 1994.