ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Albuquerque police have made inroads into clearing the city’s rape kit backlog, with forensic investigators this year submitting roughly half – or nearly 2,900 total – of those held in the city’s crime lab, city officials said Sunday.
At a news conference, Mayor Tim Keller’s administration announced that about a fifth of the evidence kits tested – or some 575 total – led to matches of identified and unidentified suspects in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System. The national database contains profiles of suspects nationwide whose DNA is obtained during investigations, and helps authorities develop investigative leads when there’s a “hit.”
A spokesman for Keller says that the city had tested only 170 kits by 2017 – the year Keller took office.
“The hit rate we’re seeing from clearing Albuquerque’s backlog proves that taking sexual assault seriously is key to getting the worst kinds of offenders behind bars,” Keller said in a written statement.
Detective Amanda Wild said once police get a hit, they begin a lengthy review of the evidence in the case and identify witnesses before reaching out to victims about the outcome of the rape kit tests.
“We want to have the answers,” said Wild, who works with the Sex Crime Unit.
So far, four cases have been sent to the district attorney for possible prosecution, she said.
The police department recently added three detectives to its Sex Crime Unit, city officials said. It also will use grant funding to hire a project coordinator and two victim liaisons to help reduce the rape kit backlog.
Keller’s announcement comes two days after Gov. Susana Martinez announced the state’s crime lab had cleared its rape kit backlog, which was a fraction of the size of Albuquerque’s. She said a combination of $1.2 million in grant funding and hiring two temporary forensic scientists helped officials clear the backlog of 1,400 evidence kits that came to light following an audit nearly three years ago.
The state’s remaining grant funding for processing rape kits will be made available to Albuquerque police, she said.
In the past, Keller has blamed the backlog on a lack of training and equipment for police, as well as law enforcement’s attitudes toward victims.
One-fifth of the kits reviewed in the statewide audit went untested because of a perceived lack of credibility on the part of the victim, he said. As a former state auditor, Keller issued reports underscoring the extent of the state backlog.
Some of the rape kits in Albuquerque have been in the city’s crime lab since the 1980s.
Advocates say each kit takes authorities about 40 hours to process at a cost of $600 to $1,000. They typically contain DNA samples secured through victims’ medical exams. The results of the tests are supposed to be entered in the national database.
Keller said the city was on track to clear the backlog by 2020 at a rate of 130 kits per month. The status of the backlog will be posted on a new city webpage.