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Salt Lake City Council examines backlog of sexual crime evidence

Published: Tuesday, April 15 2014 9:37 p.m. MDT

The Salt Lake City Police Department met with City Council members Tuesday to discuss a backlog of more than 600 unprocessed "rape kits" that have accumulated since 2004.

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City Police Department and advocacy groups for sexual trauma victims met with the City Council on Tuesday to discuss a backlog of hundreds of cases of unprocessed evidence in sexual crimes that have accumulated since 2004.

Known as rape kits, or Code R kits, each case contains evidence collected in the investigation of a sexual assault. Some kits go on to be processed for DNA and evidentiary purposes at the state crime lab. But 625 rape kits currently remain in the custody of Salt Lake police and have not been tested.

Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank says it's up the investigating detective to determine whether the results from submitting a kit for processing would be likely to help the investigation. Each DNA test costs about $1,100, but Burbank says funding is not an issue.

"There is not a single circumstance, no matter what the case is, where the police department says, 'We're not going to process evidence (because of) cost or convenience,'" he said. "We are not making decisions financially. We are making decisions as to what is the best evidence that we can present in the future."

For Jessica Ripley, not having her kit processed has made her recovery from a sexual assault more than two years ago even more difficult, she said.

"It's just beyond frustrating," Ripley said. "It makes you sick to think, 'What if they had processed it, and they had a DNA match and were able to catch this guy?' I would like to see justice."

Ripley says having her case processed would help to relieve the emotional burden she carries each day.

"I can't even explain how excited I would be," she said.

Councilman Kyle LaMalfa said processing each kit in the backlog could provide evidence to connect other cases and help prosecutors bring criminals to justice. The City Council may adopt policies to ensure the processing of each kit, he said.

"One thing we could do is to require all rape kits to be processed within 72 hours of being collected," LaMalfa said. "If we do that, we need to add funding to that budget to make sure we have the money to process that evidence."

On March 31, Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB157, which requires investigators to inform victims whether their rape kits are processed. A one-time appropriation of $750,000 was also allocated from the state's general fund to process kits in the backlog, according to the bill's sponsor, Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George.

"It's up to the investigators to determine whether to go forward with the kit," Urquhart said. "But the way that this bill helps make sure that happens is there will be accountability because an investigator will now have to speak to the victim … and explain the rationale why the kit wasn't processed."

Holly Mullen, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City, said processing rape kits could provide much-needed evidence in cases where victims struggle to recall details of the crime.

"I don't know … that every single case should be processed. I know that many more cases can and should be processed than what we have now. The fact is that someone will rape again and again if they aren't caught," Mullen said.

Burbank said he recognizes the sensitivity of the issue and that it is something the police department is "very concerned about."

"We will do all we can in the police department to make sure every single victim sees justice and receives the justice they deserve," he said.

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com

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