Grant will fund testing of some Tulsa rape kits
TULSA — A portion of the untested rape kits that have been identified in Oklahoma through a statewide audit will be submitted to a lab for analysis thanks to a $1.5 million federal grant awarded to the Tulsa Police Department.
Victims of sexual assault can choose to have an exam done to collect possible DNA evidence and receive medical care. Evidence that’s gathered is preserved in what’s commonly referred to as a rape kit.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance recently awarded Tulsa police a Sexual Assault Kit Initiative grant to fund a threeyear project. Half of the funding can be used to test sexual assault kits, whichwill allow the agency to test about 750 kits, said Sgt. Jillian Phippen, who wrote the grant proposal and is in charge of the department’s Special Victims Unit.
Testing the kits could result in the reopening of sexual assault cases and the identification of serial offenders.
Gov. Mary Fallin created a statewide task force last year to determine the number of untested rape kits and make recommendations.
The Tulsa Police Department has a total of about 3,000 untested rape kits, according to the audit. Statewide, more than 7,200 untested rape kits are sitting in evidence rooms. Officials have estimated it could cost $9.5 million or more to test all of the kits, and forensic labs in the state would not be equipped to handle all of the kits at once.
A subcommittee of the task force is working on a plan for how to test the kits.
The task force has said Tulsa police could serve as a model for the rest of the state.
The grant money Tulsa is receiving will also pay for other resources and initiatives, including hiring a detective to work on cold cases and a victim advocate for the Special Victims Unit, Phippen said. The grant will also pay for an investigator for the district attorney’s office and for a University of Tulsa graduate student to serve as a research partner.
A Sexual Assault Response Team has already started talking about how to choose which kits to test andthe best way to re-engage with victims, Phippen said.
One of the goals of the initiative is to better support victims, Phippen said, and having a victim advocate and the additional detective and resources the grant will provide will help the unit to move forward in a victim-centered way.
“The end goal is just to do better,” she said. “To make our community response better, to make our unit better, basically the whole flow.”