City accepts grant for HPD rape kit backlog

December 15, 2011 3:23:00 PM PST
Thousands of rape kits are sitting waiting to be tested by the Houston Police Department. It is a backlog believed to be much greater than previously thought.

The city has accepted federal grant money to get those kits tested, but not all of the funds are being used for tests. That has led to some heated discussions within Houston City Council.

The number of rape kits is much greater than what police previously thought. A recent audit revealed there could be as many as 17,000 sexual assault kits in the HPD property division dating back to the 1980's. Fewer than 7,000 have not been tested. For years, HPD insisted the backlog of untested rape kits was around 4,000.

City Council members say there's no question the Houston Police Department needs to accelerate the pace at which rape kits are tested. Houston's police chief told us money and resources are the two things that will guarantee that.

"I can tell you this, if I had enough money and enough personnel at some point in time I could test every one of them," said HPD Chief Charles McClelland.

There was some heated discussion in council chambers Wednesday about the issue. The talks were precipitated by a vote to accept an $821,000 federal grant to study the backlog of untested kits. On average, HPD says it receives about 930 new sexual assault kits each year.

Because it's a federal research grant, the bulk of the money has to be spent on figuring out the reasons rape kits have gone untested, though a city spokesperson tells Eyewitness News nearly half the money -- roughly $400,000 -- will go toward dealing with the actual backlog.

The grant reportedly has allowed close to a thousand kits to be screened to see if there's enough biological evidence for DNA testing.

Council Member Jolanda Jones raised serious concerns about the issue. She doesn't believe there's been enough accountability on the city's part.

"For that reason I am voting no. Because I don't think we should continue to just put money into things because people say they're going to do something. I think people expect us to do what we say we're going to do and we should be able to prove what we've done," Jones said. "Rape victims deserve actual justice and there's no proof we provided any of that."

"The police department is doing what it can do, though I would like to see a little bit more aggressive efforts. But it comes down simply to resources," said Council Member C.O. Bradford. "This is an example of resources being garnered to help move forward with the process."

Chief McClelland says roughly 60 percent of the untested kits will be testable; the remaining 40 percent may not be.

"So I don't want people to think that we have 6,000 rapists out there that are loose or 6,000 potential rapists if all these kits were tested; that's not the case," the chief said.

The Houston Police Department released the following statement, saying, "The implementation of phase one will involve testing of some kits. The department's plans for getting all the kits tested includes hiring additional personnel, increased use of robotics and technology along with outsourcing."

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