Recent Milestone Shows Dedication to Addressing DNA Backlog
After months of hard work by law enforcement agencies across the state, Kentucky has hit another major milestone in addressing the backlog of sexual-assault evidence kits.
Last year, the Kentucky General Assembly enacted Senate Bill 63 to speed up collection and processing of untested kits, which at the time, numbered more than 3,000. The measure also called on all of Kentucky’s certified law enforcement agencies to adopt a sexual-assault response policy by Jan. 1, 2017.
That was a tough target, but we are pleased to report that every certified agency has met the deadline. And the fast turnaround only demonstrates our state’s commitment to helping the survivors of sexual assault find justice – and hopefully a sense of closure.
The law enforcement officials who worked on these policies deserve our thanks, as does the Sexual Assault Response Team Advisory Committee and the Kentucky League of Cities, both of which developed model policies to guide law enforcement on a local level.
I especially want to commend the Department of Criminal Justice Training. DOCJT accepted the incredible responsibility of reviewing every agency’s policy to ensure each one met the appropriate standards. The department’s experts worked with both speed and dexterity, reaching out to officials across the state to provide support and advise them on the legislation.
Without question, their work was essential to meeting this deadline.
The new policies required under SB 63 will help ensure every kit is submitted to the Kentucky State Police Forensic Lab within 30 days. They also will provide a more standardized process for maintaining DNA evidence and for notifying victims about any progress toward a match.
Other provisions in SB 63 call for better preservation of the kits and create new deadlines for testing, so that by mid-2020, the average completion rate will not exceed 60 days. Members of law enforcement also will receive more training related to sexual assault.
The legislation applied to the vast majority of our state’s law enforcement agencies – all those that participate in the Kentucky Law Enforcement Foundation Program Fund – implementation has remained a statewide effort.
Our team at the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet anticipates a substantial impact, not only in addressing the current backlog, but also in preventing future problems. Kentucky State Police already are reporting great progress in reducing the number of untested kits.
I would be remiss not to recognize the lawmakers who worked to fast-track this bill. Sen. Denise Harper Angel and Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield both played a crucial role in the final legislation.
The House and Senate also supported a request from Gov. Matt Bevin to allocate $4.5 million toward reducing the backlog. That money will provide much-needed staffing and resources for the KSP crime lab.
It’s gratifying that so many are contributing to the success of this legislation on different levels, and that adds up to powerful reforms. It’s also clear that we all share the same belief – that the survivors of sexual assault deserve no less than our best.