FDLE processes more than 8,000 backlogged sexual assault kits in 3-year project

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has completed its sexual assault kit project after three years. The project aims to process older sexual assault kits that were submitted by local law enforcement to FDLE labs following a 2016 Sexual Assault Kit Assessment.

More than 8,000 kits were processed resulting in more than 1,800 Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) hits. The system helps federal, state and local agencies compare DNA profiles electronically, linking crimes to each other and known offenders.

To avoid another backlog, Florida law now mandates that agencies submit kits within 30 days, and the state has 120 days to process them.

In Southwest Florida, 538 kits were submitted into the backlog system and 131 of those came back with a potential “hit,” according to FDLE.

“A hit means that matches DNA from somebody who has come into the law enforcement circle somewhere before,” said Rich Kolko, WINK News Safety and Security Specialist. “As an investigator, if you’ve had a case where you don’t have a subject, or somebody to interview, this is obviously a great tip.”

But a DNA match does not always equal an arrest. This may be because of other factors or evidence, or even a survivor’s decision not to press charges.

WINK News reached out to all the agencies in the area that submitted kits to find out how many matches ended in arrests. We will update this story once we receive that information.

“Ensuring that law enforcement has the appropriate tools to properly process sexual assault kits in a timely manner is important in helping solve crimes in Florida,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “Victims deserve our support, and they should know that under my administration justice will prevail.”

“This is an extraordinary accomplishment and I am grateful to FDLE and all our law enforcement partners who worked diligently to eliminate the backlog of previously untested sexual assault kits,” said Attorney General Ashley Moody. “Not only was the backlog eliminated, procedures were adopted and advances made in an effort to prevent future backlogs.”

DOCUMENT: County-by-county breakdown of kits processed by FDLE

“I applaud Commissioner Swearingen and his team at FDLE for completing this important project and implementing process improvements to ensure sexual assault kits are processed timely and efficiently,” said CFO Jimmy Patronis. “This DNA data is a vital tool used by our dedicated law enforcement personnel to ensure perpetrators of sexual assault are apprehended, held accountable and victims receive the justice they deserve.”

“DNA evidence is critical to solving sexual assault crimes,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried. “Thanks to the dedicated professionals at FDLE, Florida has taken a leap forward in securing justice, helping victims to heal, and holding perpetrators accountable for their despicable actions. Today, a clear message has been sent that time may pass, but justice will be served.”

“I am proud of our FDLE scientists and law enforcement partners who worked diligently on this project ensuring older sexual assault kits were processed and the results entered into the DNA database,” said FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen. “The more information we have and can share, the stronger the possibility of solving these crimes.”

“We are in the law enforcement business to protect citizens and enforce the law. Today, the Sheriffs of Florida applaud the efforts of FDLE’s scientists and our fellow law enforcement partners,” said Pinellas County Sheriff and FSA President Bob Gualtieri. “Now that the DNA database has been updated with over 8,000 sexual assault kits, we look forward to solving these crimes and delivering swift justice.”

“I am very pleased with the work that has been conducted by local law enforcement and FDLE on submitting and processing older sexual assault kits,” said Temple Terrace Police Chief and President of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, Chief Kenneth Albano. “Our Police Chiefs consider sexual assault as one of the most heinous crimes that can be perpetrated on an individual. We are committed to projects like this, that assist us in getting dangerous and violent criminals off our streets.”

“Victims of sexual assault who choose to get a forensic exam not only want justice for themselves, they want to ensure that their assailant isn’t going to remain free to assault someone else,” said Florida Council Against Sexual Violence Executive Director Jennifer Dritt. “FDLE’s processing of more than 8,000 previously unsubmitted rape kits in three years is remarkable, and gives hope to victims of a crime that has made their bodies evidence.”

“I am extremely proud of our work to ensure that the State of Florida put an end to the sexual assault kit backlog,” said Florida Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto. “During the last three years over 8,000 previously untested rape kits were tested across the state. The results of many of those tests could lead to justice for attackers and closure for victims. We have also seen over the last three years that based on the clearance of the backlog that multiple cold case arrests have been made. I thank the FDLE for their hard work to ensure this project was carried out and that new kits are tested within 120 days of being submitted. Victims no longer have to fear that their rape kit will sit on a shelf while their attacker walks the street.”

Local law enforcement agencies submitted these sexual assault kits from 2015 through June 2019. Some Florida agencies, however, did not submit their evidence to FDLE labs and instead use private labs or their own lab systems.

Sexual assault kit statistics (FDLE)
Writer:Briana Harvath
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