Federal officials on Thursday announced Thursday more than $5 million in grants to Florida agencies dealing with a backlog of thousands of untested sexual assault forensic exams, sometimes known as “rape kits.”
The announcement from the U.S. Department of Justice and Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in New York came a day after Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi pointed out that thousands of the kits remain in evidence lockers, waiting to be sent to labs for analysis.
Bondi said the state hasn't had enough lab workers to get the job done.
"Our analysts are incredible and they're doing this work because they care about our state,” Bondi said. “So we've got to work hard to get more qualified analysts, to keep the ones we have and to ensure we have enough labs across the state of Florida.”
The federal money is part of a $41 million grant divided between agencies 43 agencies in 27 states to test about 13,500 kits.
In Florida, $2 million will go to the State Attorney's Office in the 4th Judicial Circuit, which includes Duval, Clay and Nassau counties.
“Rape kits are an essential tool in modern crime fighting — not only for the victim, but, for the entire community,” said Vice President Joe Biden in a prepared statement. Studies show we solve up to 50 percent of previously unsolved rapes when these kits are tested.”
“When we solve these cases, we get rapists off the streets…The grants we’re announcing today to reduce the national rape kit backlog will bring that sense of closure and safety to victims while improving community safety.”
An additional $3.4 million from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Initiative was given to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Miami-Dade Police Department Forensic Services Bureau and the Tallahassee Police Department.
In total, nearly $40 million from the Manhattan DA went to 32 jurisdictions in 20 states. The two-year awards, ranging from about $97,000 to $2 million, will help test an estimated 56,475 rape kits.
Whitney Ray, the spokesperson for the Florida Attorney General's office, said the money is a step in the right direction but it doesn't solve the problem.
"All this money is for specific jurisdictions so while it’s wonderful news and we really appreciate the support, there are hundreds of sheriff’s offices and police departments in Florida and we look to continuing the efforts to make sure every jurisdiction has what it needs to test unprocessed kits,” Ray said.
Bondi said the analysis may provide DNA evidence that could help solve cold cases and catch sexual predators.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is also conducting a $300,000 study on the number of untested kits and will present the findings to the Legislature in January.
It can take up to three to six months on average to process a single rape kit and cost anywhere between $400 and $1,500, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime.