Testing backlog of sexual assault kits could take 3-4 years

Department of Public Safety officials say it will take another three to four years to finish testing a backlog of 2,568 sexual assault kits, due to a limited number of qualified labs and high demand for analysis service.

In its annual report to the Legislature in early November, DPS Commissioner Walt Monegan said his department has made much progress in the backlog of untested, unsubmitted sexual assault kits. “With the creation of the sexual assault kit website (https://dps.alaska.gov/Comm/SAK/Home) and sexual assault team, the agency is doubling down on its commitment to secure justice for victims,” he said.

The annual report, required under House Bill 31, includes an inventory of previously unsubmitted, untested SAKs held by all 48 police departments in Alaska. In 2017, the inventory found 2,979 previously unsubmitted, untested victim kits, and by 2018, that number was down to 2,568, according to DPS.

Now the Crime Lab’s Forensic Biology Unit has divided into a Major/Property Crimes Team and the Sexual Assault Team. The division will allow the lab to prioritize sexual assault cases while still conducting DNA analysis on major crimes without delay.

Monegan notes on the website that there were many reasons that some kits were not submitted for testing over the past three decades. “All of these decisions were made based on individual cases, and not necessarily with the potential impact on other cases in mind,” he said.

The Crime Lab’s work on sexual assault kit testing is funded from two sources.

For 2016 and 2017, DPS received $1.5 million in federal SAK grants that will conclude in 2020. Those funds go to support testing and investigation of previously unsubmitted, untested kits from Alaska State Troopers cases.