Rape kit grant money raises questions

HOUSTON Some city council members we talked to say rather than researching the problem, that grant money would be better used actually fixing the problem.

There was some heated discussion around city council chambers Wednesday morning as members decided whether to approve nearly $81,000 of grant money toward researching rape kit problems at the Houston police crime lab. Most vocal was Councilman CO Bradford.

He said, "The question isn't why they are not being examined. Let's examine them and let's not allow investigators an opportunity to request or not request that evidence be examined."

The HPD crime lab has been under public scrutiny for years after having a backlog of rape kits, which at one time was about 4,000 cases.

The money at the center of this council discussion is part of a $1 million grant from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) for Sam Houston State University to research strategies to help handle the backlog of sex assault kits.

HPD Chief Charles A. McClelland, Jr. issued the following statement: "I support the concept of placing all forensic sciences under one regional crime lab. This would allow Houston and Harris County to take advantage of efficiencies and economies of scale."

Councilwoman Jolanda Jones asked "We're going to spend $50,000 to see why we hadn't tested the rape kits? My question is -- really? How come we don't use the money to actually test some rape kits?"

Last year the NIJ awarded Houston police a separate grant, allowing the crime lab to hire 10 contractors to process and complete about 2,300 rape cases.

Before the council ultimately approved authorizing the new federal grant money for research, Councilman Bradford said government should make better choices about tax dollars in cases like this.

"If we target public dollars in certain categories -- we say they are grant dollars, those are still public dollars -- and the public wants these kits examined, not talked about why we are not examining them," he said.

Houston and Detroit are the only cities given the federal rape kit research grant.

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