BOISE — The head of Idaho’s crime lab gave an update to a House committee Tuesday on progress toward addressing the backlog of untested rape kits in Idaho. He said the lab has made significant progress toward testing previously untested kits, and that police agencies are doing a better job of retaining kits.
“Kit destruction, by and large, has stopped in this state,” said Matthew Gamette, head of the crime lab.
But Gamette said significant progress still has to be made to bring testing in line with legislation intended to ensure timely rape kit testing. For example, the legislation mandated a 90-day average “turnaround” time for kit testing, from the time the kit is submitted to the lab to the time law enforcement agencies receive the results.
“I wish I could stand here and report to you that we are meeting that deadline,” Gamette said. “We are not.”
According to a slide from his presentation, the longest anticipated turnaround for a kit is 411 days. And a total of 132 kits currently in the lab have been there longer than the 90-day target.
Gamette said the lab is still working to speed up testing, but the large backlog of submissions combined with new kits represents a large increase in workload.
“We have a lot more sexual assault kits coming into the laboratory,” he said.
Gamette reported that the crime lab had seen a 107 percent year-over-year increase in the number of kits requiring testing, including new kits and the submission of old, untested kits previously held by law enforcement agencies, which were identified in a 2016 audit.
Gamette said the lab has worked to employ a new technique that quickly discerns which kits may yield important DNA. The technique tests for the presence of Y-chromosome DNA, which only males possess, in order to determine whether the DNA of an attacker is present in the kit, rather than only the DNA of the victim.
That means the lab can focus more intensive DNA tests on kits that will yield useful evidence.
“It allows us to process more kits in the state,” he said.
The lab currently has just under 600 kits to test, according to another slide.
The state police developed a rape kit tracking system that allows victims to monitor their kit’s progress through the forensic testing system. Gamette reported that had been successful, and the state police have begun distributing the software for use in other states at no cost. The system, which is publicly searchable, contains no personal information. Kits can only be identified by a tracking number.
Gamette reported that the state also has applied for a four-year federal grant to train 250 nurses around the state in rape kit collection, particularly in under-served rural areas.
Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, who sponsored the 2016 legislation requiring processing of the previously untested rape kits, commended the lab on its progress.
“You have done an amazing job,” she said.
Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 208-542-6751.