No backlog is reported for Idaho County law enforcement agencies in submitting sexual assault kits, according to a state report released last month.
However, agencies statewide are missing the mandated month time to submit kits, showing some legislative change may be needed to the law that better fits with the process and complexity involved in these cases.
Tracking system ‘provides more public accountability and transparency’
In January 2017, Idaho became the first state to fully implement a statewide sexual assault kit tracking system.
According to the report, “This tracking system provides more public accountability and transparency, allows victims to see the state taking this issue seriously, provides better direction and tools to law enforcement, provides more resources to the state forensic laboratory and ultimately provides a better criminal justice system,” said Matthew Gamette, Idaho State Police Forensic Services Laboratory System Director. This Idaho Kit Tracking System (IKTS) software used by medical facilities, law enforcement, the forensic laboratory, and prosecutors has become nationally renowned and acclaimed.
The report is available online: https://www.isp.idaho.gov/forensics/inc/documents/sakSpreadSheets/legislativeReport/SAK%20Annual%20Report%20Final%202017.pdf
As required by Idaho Code, Idaho State Police Forensic Services provided the annual Idaho Sexual Assault Kit report to the Idaho Legislature on Jan. 19. This report contains statistics related to collection, laboratory processing, and law enforcement storage of sexual assault kits in Idaho in calendar year 2017.
Throughout the state, 456 sexual assault kits were collected by medical providers, 509 kits submitted to the Idaho State Police Forensic Services lab for testing (due to new and previously unsubmitted kits being submitted) and 316 kits were completed by the forensic lab.
Last year, the Grangeville Police Department (GPD) showed it had five kits in progress of testing, and reported it had zero previously unsubmitted kits, and zero kits still requiring testing.
For the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office (ICSO), it reported one tested kit; otherwise reporting zero for both kits previously unsubmitted and still requiring testing.
Both the Cottonwood Police Department and Idaho State Police (District 2) reported zero kit data.
A 2016 law mandated all law enforcement agencies track the number of sexual assault evidence kits they collect and those that go untested. Kits chosen to be tested must be delivered to the state lab within 30 days, which then has 90 days to test the kit and enter DNA data into a national database. If an agency decides not to test a kit, the county prosecutor must sign off on the decision.
On that last criteria, the 2017 report listed ICSO having five unsubmitted kits. Of these, testing was not done on two at the request of the adult victim, on two more due to corroborated evidence the incident did not happen, and on one as the victim refused to cooperate with law enforcement.
The report stated great progress was made in 2017 testing previously unsubmitted kits identified in the statewide audit, and “All indications are that the destruction of sexual assault kits in Idaho has stopped and the new state law is being followed,” according to Matthew Gamette, director, Idaho State Police Forensic Services Laboratory System.
An issue raised within the report concerned the 30-day statutory requirement to submit a kit for testing or document the decision to not test – last year, Idaho law enforcement agencies, on average, took 60 days.
The average for Idaho County agencies was 32 days for GPD and 23 days for ICSO.
According to the report, challenges for law enforcement in meeting the 30-day requirement include performing enough of the investigation, making an appropriate decision and obtaining necessary reference samples within that timeframe. Law enforcement agencies are recommending a statutory amendment for a 60-day time frame.
“Most of the chiefs are in line with this,” said GPD Chief Morgan Drew. The Idaho Chiefs of Police Association supports the 60-day amendment, he said, that will allow agencies to complete these complex investigations. And just because they have 60 days, Drew clarified, that doesn’t mean the agency will hold a completed kit — “Those will be submitted as soon as we can.”
For GPD, Drew said his agency submits completed kits right away, but he added, “We are not the only cog in the wheel,” and there are other steps in the process that can exdtend that processing date.
In one example, the state lab returned a GPD-submitted kit for a sample it was missing, Drew said. In calling the lab, he explained the situation and the lab said to return the kit for processing. A call at the start, he said, rather than just sending it back, could have prevented that delay.
Or you could have a multi-agency investigation, he said, in which a crime occurred across multiple jurisdictions.
“That can take more time to wrap up and get everything sorted out,” Drew said.
Drew recognizes the sensitivity of these assault cases and said officers are as concerned about conducting investigations thoroughly and completing them as soon as they can. His hope is the legislature will increase the lead time to the 60-day mark.
“But, if not, we’ll do everything possible to comply with this mandate,” he said.