Officials from the Salt Lake City Police Department announced today that they had cleared a 10-year backlog of sexual assault evidence known as “rape kits.”
The achievement was the result of a 2014 initiative put in place by the Salt Lake City Council that added funding, personnel and officer training for the department and prioritized processing of the assault evidence at the state crime lab.
An analysis from the Salt Lake City Police Department showed with the use of DNA evidence the initiative helped identify 42 previously unknown criminal suspects.
While Salt Lake City has made strides in this area, a persistent backlog of rape kits remains across the rest of the state. According to Amy Lightfoot, director of operations at the state crime lab, there is a backlog of approximately 1,700 rape kits from across Utah that have not yet been tested. Police Chief Mike Brown said it took a cultural shift within his department to make such strides in Salt Lake City.
“We went out and we took a whole different approach to how we were investigating these sexual assaults. And then slowly but surely, the culture of what we were doing within the Salt Lake City Police Department was changed,” Brown said.
Starting in 2014 the City Council provided funding to process all sexual assault cases with usable DNA evidence and the hiring of a forensic scientist. The Salt Lake City Police Department also invited academic experts to evaluate how they handled sex assault cases and trained officers in what Brown described as a “victim-centered, trauma informed” approach.
Over the past five years the number of reported sexual offenses has increased in Salt Lake City from 509 in 2014 to 841 last year.
“I think victims feel much more comfortable coming forward because in the past this was a very difficult process. Sometimes victims felt victimized by the process again” when they report to police, Brown said.
The chief was commended for the policy change by members of the Salt Lake City Council.
“That’s as meaningful, if not more meaningful, when we really look at the treatment of women across the board,” said Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall. “This is all part of a cultural view of women and the value of our experience.”
Brown pledged that the department’s policies will prevent future backlogs of rape kits.
Survivors of sexual assault who want to track the status of a rape kit can call the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative’s kit information line at 801-893-1145.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that there is a backlog of 4,331 untested rape kits from across Utah. The correct number is approximately 1,700 untested kits.