KCPD working to reduce their backlog of sexual assault kits to help victims get justice quicker

KCPD crime lab section
KCPD crime lab section(kctv)
Updated: May. 5, 2023 at 4:30 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - KCPD posted on their Twitter page that their Crime Lab’s DNA section is drastically reducing the backlog of sample tests.

Since the early nineties, the understanding of DNA and how it can be used in investigative cases has grown tremendously. Some might even think of it as a silver bullet at times.

Although DNA can be used in most all cases, it seems to be key for sexual assault cases. Just last year, Kansas City was considered to beone of the cities in Missouri with the highest rate of untested sexual assault kits.

According to the KCPD tweet, posted on April 25th, as of Jan. 2022, the backlog has fallen from 550 cases to now, under 260.

KCTV5 was able to speak with Jennifer Howard, Chief Criminalist Supervisor-Biology/DNA, via email, about their efforts to test DNA samples.

“A sexual assault kit takes 15 hours to process. The current turn around time for sexual assault kits is 60 days,” Howard said.

KCPD actively working to reduce DNA backlog
KCPD actively working to reduce DNA backlog(kctv)

Last year, KCPD was awarded $340,000 to purchase robots used in the DNA testing process.

“We have two different types of automated systems or “robots”. One type is used for DNA extraction. The second type is a liquid handler called a Hamilton STARlet,” Howard detailed.

The DNA extraction robot, or known in the Crime Lab as EZ2, purifies and isolates the DNA from other material on the swab.

Howard says the second robot, the Hamilton STARlet, moves liquids around between different tubes and plates.

“Both of these “robots” help to allow the DNA analysts to spend less time on the processing of samples and more time on the analysis and review, making the whole process more efficient,” Howard said.

In August of 2022, the State Attorney General released the SAFE Kit Initiative report. According to that report, KCPD had a total of 222 kit samples, 32 of which were partially tested.

Howard describes that a kit goes through several steps to be tested, using the example of a female victim with a male suspect.

“The first step is a screening process where the samples collected within the kit are inventoried and screening is performed to determine if male DNA is present. The next step is DNA testing, where the sample(s) that had male DNA present are taken through a 4-step process to develop a DNA profile,” Howard explained.

The final step taken is DNA analysis. This is where DNA profiles are analyzed and compared to known individuals in the case. That DNA profile could also be entered into the CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) database for kits without a suspect.

But what does all that mean to a sexual assault survivor? How will their cases now continue to move through the justice system?

The earnest to request testing for the lab relies heavily on a detective or prosecutor. There are several reasons why a kit testing is not requested such as evidence would not impact the investigation, the victim could be unavailable or being beyond the statute of limitations.

Although this is great progress for Kansas City, there are several reasons for a sexual assault survivor to decide against reporting their case or even recanting their statement.

“The length of time for a case to make its way through the justice system is a factor that can cause victims to disengage with the process. Hopefully, getting the DNA results from the kit faster can help speed up this process,” Howard commented.

Also Read: https://www.kctv5.com/2022/09/15/kc-independence-police-working-backlog-untested-sexual-assault-kits/