rape kits

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Legislation is moving through the state Legislature to improve the way law enforcement agencies handle evidence in sexual assault cases.

In 2009, more than 11,000 rape kits were discovered unprocessed in a Detroit police storage facility. Some of the sexual assault cases dated back more than 20 years. 

In the years since the discovery, testing has linked the DNA of 100 serial rapists to the kits. A national database has linked samples to crimes committed in about two dozen other states. 

Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a law that requires police and hospitals to handle rape evidence kits in a timely fashion. It’s a response to the discovery in 2009 of 11,000 abandoned evidence kits in a Detroit police warehouse.

Governor Snyder says the Michigan State Police is on track to clear the backlog by next May. But the goal of the new law is to ensure future backlogs don’t happen.

The budget approved last week by state lawmakers includes money to help prosecute some sexual assault cases. The $3 million allocation will go toward prosecutions that stem from testing old rape kits.

More than 11,000 unprocessed rape kits were found in an abandoned Detroit Police crime lab in 2009. Since then, Michigan State Police and county prosecutors have struggled to process the backlog. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office will get to divvy up those funds.

“The appropriation calls for us to develop a plan for how the money will be spent, and that’s what we’re working on right now,” said office spokeswoman Joy Yearout. Yearout said there was no formal deadline for submitting that plan, but the office is “fast-tracking” the process.

The current fiscal year’s budget included $4 million to help speed the process of testing those rape kits. “The next step will be investigation and prosecution that will result from that testing,” said Yearout.

Office of the Washtenaw County Prosecutor

Five years ago, 11,000 rape kits were discovered abandoned in a Detroit police warehouse. That discovery sparked outrage. 

Since then, only about 2,000 of the kits have undergone DNA testing.

Why? And what's the broader message sent out to victims of rape? Does it make it seem like they don't matter?

Rebecca Campbell is a professor of community psychology and program evaluation at Michigan State University. She was brought on board by the National Institute of Justice to evaluate how these Detroit rape kits were handled. 

*Listen to the full interview above. 

Office of the Washtenaw County Prosecutor

A bipartisan bill in the state Senate would speed up the testing of rape kits.

It proposes a set of deadlines for law enforcement agencies to pick up rape kits from medical facilities and have them tested at crime labs. The time limit from pickup  to completion of the lab analysis would be four months.

The bill is in response to the discovery in 2009 of about 11,000 untested rape kits in a Detroit police storage unit. The kits went back 25 years.

Kym Worthy, the Wayne County prosecutor, collaborated on the bill. 

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Work started on rape kit testing

When Detroit’s police lab closed three years ago thousands of rape kits were left untested.  A donation of four million dollars from the state of Michigan will go toward immediately reducing the work backlog

"Tests on a few hundred kits have already turned up suspects living all across Michigan and half a dozen other states," Rick Pluta reports.

School districts must prove budget

A new bill in the state House Legislature would require school districts to prove their funding for an entire school year.  Schools would face closure if the year’s funding could not be met. 

"Under the bill, schools that can't show they can afford to stay open all year would risk getting dissolved by the state treasurer and state superintendent. They would work with the intermediate school district to find districts nearby to accept the students," Lindsey Smith reports.

Gas prices spike

Summer gas prices in Michigan are nearing a record high due to regional refinery problems.  It may take a week for prices to stabilize and begin to decrease in Michigan and the Midwest.

Rick Pluta / MPRN

A $4 million donation from the state could help cut in half a backlog of untested rape kits in Detroit.

There are eight or nine thousand rape kits remaining of those that were left behind and untested when the city of Detroit police lab closed three years ago.

Some of the cases are 25 years old.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says it’s unacceptable that some of these crimes have gone decades without being solved.

“Twice, women were violated – once by the rape, and then second, that justice was put in a box, put on a shelf,” said Schuette.

The funds will come from money won in lawsuits by the state.

Tests on a few hundred kits have already turned up suspects living all across Michigan and half a dozen other states.

In 2009, prosecutors in Detroit discovered more than 11,000 boxes of potential evidence in rape cases left completely unprocessed. Row upon row of what are called "rape kits" remained untouched on shelves in a police evidence room for years. No DNA evidence was extracted; no DNA evidence was used to catch or prosecute the assailants.

Since then, Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy has lead the effort to sort through those 11,000 rape kits and to find the funding to get them processed.

Michigan State Police say it will take millions of dollars to process thousands of rape kits found in an abandoned Detroit crime lab.

John Collins is State Police Director of Forensic Science. He says Michigan State University researchers are helping to identify the kits but the procedure takes time and money:

“What we hope to have eventually is some federal support to help us supply resources to test as many of these kits as possible, and to assist with the prosecutions that we think will come later on down the road,” said Collins.

Collins says about a thousand rape kits will be analyzed for DNA in the next year.  The results will be submitted to a national database to look for matches from other cases.

That leaves a backlog of another 10,000  kits .

The Detroit Police crime lab was shut down in 2008 after it was learned that firearms cases had been improperly handled.

G.L. Kohuth / Michigan State University

About two years ago, police and prosecutors were conducting a walk-through of a Detroit Police storage room when they came across something as shocking as any crime scene: more than 10,000 rape kits, collecting dust.

“You don’t get 10,000-plus kits sitting in a storage facility because one person or one organization didn’t do their job. It just doesn’t work like that. You can’t get a problem that big,” says Michigan State University researcher Rebecca Campbell.

Not just a Detroit problem