SUN IN­VES­TI­GATES Fed­eral rape kit grants un­claimed

Most Md. ju­ris­dic­tions say their untested ev­i­dence does not con­sti­tute a back­log

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - — Cather­ine Rentz

Law en­force­ment agen­cies across the coun­try have drawn on $80 mil­lion in fed­eral grants to make sig­nif­i­cant progress in pro­cess­ing nearly 70,000 untested rape kits.

But Mary­land — which has 3,700 untested kits, and is where Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and Sen. Bar­bara A. Mikul­ski an­nounced the fed­eral Sex­ual As­sault Kit Ini­tia­tive in 2015 to help lo­cal of­fi­cials clear their back­logs — has yet to see a dol­lar.

Al­most no Mary­land ju­ris­dic­tion ap­plied for grants, ac­cord­ing to Jus­tice De­part­ment records ob­tained by The Baltimore Sun through a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quest.

Po­lice in sev­eral Mary­land ju­ris­dic­tions told The Sun they hadn’t ap­plied for funds be­cause they do not con­sider their untested kits to be a back­log. Rather, they thought test­ing was un­nec­es­sary.

Rea­sons po­lice didn’t test kits: The the iden­tity of the al­leged per­pe­tra­tor was al­ready known, in­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieved the ac­cu­sa­tion to be false, or the vic­tim chose not to par­tic­i­pate in a pros­e­cu­tion.

A task force con­vened by Mary­land At­tor­ney Gen­eral Brian Frosh con­cluded in Jan­uary that nearly all kits should be tested. The panel rec­om­mended statewide poli­cies to guide lo­cal agen­cies.

“In over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of cases, test­ing should be the rule, but it’s not cheap,” Frosh said. “It takes not only an agree­ment on pol­icy, but also a fi­nan­cial com­mit­ment.”

Test­ing costs an av­er­age of about $1,000 per kit, but the ex­pense can vary widely with the com­plex­ity of the case.

The Gen­eral Assem­bly ap­proved leg­is­la­tion last week to re­quire lo­cal law en­force­ment agen­cies to keep rape kits for 20 years.

But a bill that would have re­quired them to test the kits failed af­ter some of­fi­cials balked at the cost.

Daniel Katz, foren­sics di­rec­tor for the Mary­land State Po­lice, es­ti­mated that test­ing the 1,500 kits un­der his agency’s ju­ris­dic­tion would have cost $6 mil­lion, or $4,000 per kit.

The state po­lice never ap­plied for the fed­eral fund­ing be­cause of­fi­cials didn’t be­lieve they had a back­log to test.

Baltimore County State’s At­tor­ney Scott Shel­len­berger tes­ti­fied against the bill. He said test­ing all kits could draw money away from other pri­or­i­ties, and urged law­mak­ers not to tell lo­cal author­i­ties how to man­age their lim­ited re­sources.

Ac­cord­ing to the Jus­tice De­part­ment records, only Baltimore County ap­plied for the fed­eral fund­ing. The re­quest was re­jected. Baltimore County po­lice spokes­woman Elise Ar­ma­cost said po­lice never learned why. They plan on reap­ply­ing this year.

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