An estimated 5,000 untested rape kits are in New Mexico's crime labs and warehouses, and it could take five years to work through the backlog, state officials said Monday.
New Mexico Public Safety Secretary Gregory Fouratt told the Legislature's Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee during a hearing in Santa Fe that about 75 percent of the kits that haven't been tested stem from Bernalillo County sheriff and Albuquerque police cases. About 31 law enforcement agencies in the state — most of them representing more rural areas — have not responded to the state's initial request for the numbers of untested kits in the agencies' jurisdictions, he said.
Some of the cases in Albuquerque police's backlog date back to the late 1980s — a time when protocol would have called for many of the rape kits to be discarded, said John Krebsbach, the crime lab director for Albuquerque police. "It's something that truly, truly needs to be taken care of," he said.
The hearing on New Mexico's untested rape kits comes as numerous states attempt to address how to decrease their backlogs.
Rape kits are actually a series of DNA samplings and other evidence secured via intimate and sometimes invasive medical procedures conducted immediately after an attack. Experts say testing them promptly and comparing them to federal DNA databases for hits is crucial because as many as half of all sex offenders are serial rapists who sometimes travel, committing crimes as they move.
It can take hours to collect evidence after a crime is reported with a victim's participation. Examinations that collect evidence for kits are typically lengthy and invasive.
Part of the reason for the backlog in New Mexico and elsewhere is the cost of testing the kits.
New Mexico officials said they would need about $5 million over about five years to make progress with the backlog. Some jurisdictions such as Detroit have turned to private donations to raise money to clear the backlogs.
In September, when the White House announced it would contribute $41 million toward supporting not just testing efforts but also funding auditing and training for localities on police and forensic best practices, officials estimated there were 70,000 untested rape kits nationwide.
"Part of the equation (of the justice system) is that when a woman or a man or a child courageously comes forward and has this examination done on him or her to collect evidence, he or she should be able to expect justice," said Julianna Koob of the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault programs.
Koob is advocating that an additional $1 million be added to the New Mexico state budget to fund crisis centers, which work with victims in more current cases.
Al Jazeera with The Associated Press