Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams wants the public to be assured that all of the untested rape kits in reported sexual assaults discovered in a survey conducted by the Missouri State Attorney general will be tested and the results given to prosecutors.
Williams spoke to OI about the Attorney General’s report, one day after AG Eric Schmitt released the report to the public. Williams, who was a member of the task force that conducted the survey, wanted to help educate the public about the depth of the report and correct some errors that were spreading in social media.
Williams stated one of the most important aspects of the Attorney General’s report is that officials now know the full amount of rape kits within the state that have not been tested, noting that the total in the report is not just newly found kits but includes those found in a report from two years ago.
“The last time [we had a report of untested kits] the information was voluntary,” Chief Williams told OI. “Two years ago, that voluntary submission had information from 266 law enforcement agencies and 66 healthcare providers, of which we were one. This time, they spoke with every law enforcement agency and healthcare provider in the state. So this time it was 627 law enforcement agencies and 193 healthcare providers. That’s a significant increase in those participating, and how we have an accurate account.”
‘You can’t really start to fix the problem until you know exactly what the problem is,” Williams said. “That gives us an accurate count…and now we have a federal grant toward fixing the problem.”
Williams said that the goal for the task force is to test every kit. He said that for many years, the best practices were not to have every kit tested. He said prosecutors and detectives would recommend whether or not a kit would need to be tested based on the strength of a case.
Williams set a policy in 2014 that all kits received by the Springfield Police Department would be tested, a policy that is now being used by all police departments in Missouri under state law.
“We believe that’s best practice,” Williams said. “And that means going forward, there won’t be anymore growth of a backlog.
Williams noted that Springfield had already been working with the state lab to clear the city’s backlog when the Attorney General began his investigation into the kits; the city was having the state crime lab process up to 10 backlog kits a month on top of current cases.
Williams also said the report’s recommendations of a tracking system for rape kits will be vital for law enforcement and prosecutors.
“Previously, there was no tracking information on the kits,” Williams said. “There was nothing like a barcode to track the kit from where it was manufactured to the laboratory. They were just provided by the state and sent to hospitals. The tracking system would allow us to follow a kit from production to where it was sent, when it was used, who used it, and when it was submitted to the lab. It would be tracked just like you track a package with FedEx or UPS.”
Williams said it would be an accurate way to track kits that may not be initially tested in the event a victim wants to report their crime as a later date.
Williams then noted that not all of the rape kits submitted would be initially tested; only those that are submitted with a report will automatically go to the crime lab. If a victim chooses not to file a police report, the kit will now be stored; if the victim even years later wants to them file a report, the kit will be available for immediate testing.
“The only way that a kit would not be tested in the crime lab is if the victim chooses not to file a report,” Williams said. “But we will make sure that the kit is not destroyed and is stored in a manner where it can be tested if the victim changes their mind.”
Williams said that one thing to note from the report and the totals is that police departments were not the sole arbitrators on whether or not a kit was tested.
“The fingers get pointed at the police departments but in most cases they were not the ones that made the final decisions on kits being tested,” Williams noted.
He said that prosecutors had a major influence over whether a kit was tested, noting that in some prosecutions there was enough evidence to convict without the testing. He also pointed out that healthcare providers, if the victim did not want to file a police report, were not previously required to contact a police department and thus many departments didn’t even know there were untested rape kits at healthcare locations.
“They destroyed a lot of kits based on their protocols,” Williams said. “Some of them had 30 day, 60 day, 90 day policies and after that the kits were destroyed. That didn’t change until 2018 when the state law changed.”
Williams said the bottom line is that every kit identified by the Attorney General’s task force that is considered “reported”…meaning with a police report…will be tested and the data compared to police databases, with information about matches forwarded to prosecutors.
“If someone has been a victim of a sexual assault and they have not reported the case, I want to encourage them to come forward now,” Williams said. “Law enforcement agencies around the state now have vital information on these kits and are ready to file reports for the kits that currently are without a police report.”
Here is the Attorney General’s complete report:safe-kits-inventory-report