New plan expected to clear rape kit backlog

Inside the Houston Police Department property room

February 13, 2013 4:03:04 PM PST
It's a fight that's dragged on for years now -- a fight to get thousands of rape kits tested. Now the city of Houston has a plan to do just that and hopefully eliminate the backlog of untested rape kits within a year's time.

Among the walls of evidence inside the Houston Police Department property room are 6,663 untested rape kits. Even though HPD has said these kits are not part of current investigations, the fact that there are so many untested kits has always been controversial.

Houston City Councilmember Ellen Cohen said, "To go through all that and not have your kit tested, it's probably the greatest indignity following a rape that you can have."

Now after years of debate, finally a solution -- the city will use a combination of grant money and general funds to outsource the long overdue testing in bulk.

"We didn't want a fix. We didn't want to piecemeal it," said Houston Mayor Annise Parker. "We wanted a solution. We wanted the solution to be cost effective as possible but once and for all, let's get rid of this issue."

The city wants outside vendors to tackle not just the 6,663 stored rape kits, but also 1,450 active rape kits, 1,020 other DNA kits and 1,000 anticipated cases, for a total of more than 10,000 DNA tests. Once city council approves the plan, it's estimated to take 12-14 months to get rid of the backlog.

"We will get to a position where we can guarantee every victim that sexual assault evidence or other DNA evidence will be processed thoroughly and promptly," said Houston Forensic Science LGC Chair Scott Hochberg.

Because the city is outsourcing so many cases at once, the price of doing each DNA testing is a third of the current price, at about $400 per test, instead of the current $1,200 apiece. The city had originally set aside $5 million for the testing, but anticipates it will only need $2.2 million, along with $2 million in grant money. City council votes on the proposal next week.

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