Report spurs police to file rape kit figures

REPORT SPURS POLICE TO FILE - ALBANY - Dozens of police agencies across the state tallied their untested rape kits in the days following a state report Wednesday that found fewer than half had met a key deadline.

The report from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services found just 265 of the 586 police and prosecutorial agencies across the state submitted their numbers by a Feb. 17 deadline, which was set by the state.

Another 63 agencies reported their totals after the report was issued, according to DCJS spokeswoman Janine Kava. That brings the total to 328 as of Friday afternoon.


The report was mandated by a state law passed last year and tweaked last month, which requires the timely testing of rape kits. The kits include evidence and samples collected from a victim's body and clothing.

The law came in response to a nationwide backlog of untested kits, with USA TODAY tallying at least 70,000 across the country in 2015.

The deadlines, however, led to some confusion among police agencies.

Peter Kehoe, executive director of the state Sheriffs' Association, said some local departments had thought they fulfilled their reporting requirements when they alerted the State Police's lab of their inventory of untested kits.

But the updated law required police agencies to report twice: Once to a lab, and again to DCJS.

"I found that several agencies did submit the data to the laboratory, as was also required, but neglected to also send it to DCJS," Kehoe wrote in an email Thursday. "Those agencies are correcting that now."

The city of Ithaca's police department, meanwhile, did meet a deadline to report its number of untested rape kits to the state, but another city got the credit.

The state report listed the Ithaca Police Department among the 321 police agencies and prosecutors that missed the key February deadline.

Ithaca's inclusion on the list, however, appears to be the result of a computer-aided mix-up.

The city's police department provided documentation Friday showing they had 11 untested rape kits and had informed the state Division of Criminal Justice Services before the Feb. 17 deadline.

By Friday afternoon, DCJS had located the problem.

The number was inadvertently credited to the Johnstown City Police Department, the apparent result of an errant click on a drop-down menu when the numbers were submitted online, according to DCJS spokeswoman Janine Kava.

So Ithaca's number was listed under Johnstown, but the contact information attached to it included a city of Ithaca email address. The mistake was discovered Friday, and Kava confirmed Ithaca had submitted the information before the deadline.

Other agencies said they were confused by a series of communications with the state, which first sent a link to its inventory survey in a Jan. 17 memo to police agencies.

On Jan. 27, DCJS sent an updated memo to match the tweaked law, asking those who had already submitted their inventory to re-submit.

Both times, the memos clearly stated police had to report to a lab and DCJS.

Jason Ellis, chief investigator for Broome County District Attorney's Office, said the state's implementation of the law has been "unclear and unorganized."

In a statement, he said DCJS "failed to properly notify and communicate with law enforcement agencies across the state."

The Broome prosecutor's office was among those listed in the report as missing the deadline. DCJS said it received the office's tally -- one untested kit -- on Thursday.
Jim Worhach, a spokesman for Broome District Attorney Steve Cornwell, claimed Friday that the office first tried to submit the information on Feb. 23, but the website was "often non-functioning."
He said he "can't confirm" if the district attorney's office tried to submit the information Thursday.
The online survey was never down after it was posted, according to DCJS.

Gannett


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