Grant will fund test­ing of some Tulsa rape kits

The Oklahoman - - NEWS - BY DARLA SLIPKE Staff Writer dslipke@ok­la­homan.com

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.”

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