YAKIMA, Wash. - In May, a new law that requires the Washington State Crime Lab to test new sexual assault kits coming in within a 45-day period took effect. Since then, Washington State Patrol said the lab tested almost all the new kits by that deadline. Thousands of backlog kits have also been tested.
According to the Communications Director for Washington State Patrol Chris Loftis, the state crime lab received 372 new sexual assault kits between May and now. All but two of them were tested within 45 days. One took 47 days to test and the other 48 days.
Loftis said a lot of changes needed to be made in order to meet this deadline like hiring additional staff, updating equipment and better use of lab space.
"The external pressure is good," Loftis said. "Its forced us to improve our systems, its forced the legislature to provide the funding and resources."
Sergeant Jake Lancaster with the Yakima Police Department said getting those kits back sooner could be key in solving some cases.
"We need some evidence," Sgt. Lancaster said. "Sometimes that's the only physical evidence that we have."
Loftis said it could also help exonerate the innocent people accused a lot quicker.
A big dent in the Washington's backlog of sexual assault kits was also made with about 95% of them tested. According to Loftis, thousands of kits were outsourced to other labs to speed up testing. Now the backlog stands at 427 kits, compared to the over nine thousand the state started with.
Of the kits tested, so far 2,763 DNA profiles have been entered in the national information database, CODIS, resulting in 1,059 hits to people already in the database. Two-hundred and twenty-seven people have been linked to another case.
"The assumptions of the past that these were of little value, was wrong and it was disrespectful to victims," Loftis said.
In the past, kits were not tested if the evidence wasn't needed like if other physical evidence was available or if the suspect confessed. Loftis said that sent the wrong message. All kits sent to the lab are tested now.
Sgt. Lancaster said he believes all kits need to be tested for stronger prosecutions.
"I don't believe it to be a pleasant experience for a victim to go through that so I think they should even if the suspect were to confess," Sgt. Lancaster said. "I think that the kit should be tested because it makes the case even stronger."
YPD sends all their sexual assault kits to the crime lab to be tested every two weeks and has cleared all the backlogged cases at their department.
Evidence Technician Amanda Tricky-Morris said the Yakima County Sheriff's Office tries to send the kits to the crime lab right away. Sometimes it can take longer depending on the case but they try to send it off to the lab within a 30-day period. Only rarely do they wait past 30 days.
"If there is somebody we wanted to get a reference sample from in order to maybe eliminate them, we would sometimes wait to collect that to send it in and that could delay shipment past the 30 days," Tricky-Morris said.
She added the crime lab like reference samples and kits to be sent together.
YCSO has also cleared their backlog of kits except four kits they've kept because the victims didn't want to press charges. Tricky-Morris said they will keep those until the 20-year statue of limitations is up or until victims decide to press charges.
The state crime lab continues to face a backlog of nonsexual assault related cases and they are working to test evidence for other crimes like homicides.
Loftis said this can be harder to clear because the evidence can be as big a couch so each case is different. He said right now the average turn around for testing nonsexual assault related evidence is 186 days. However, 55% of evidence is tested in a 45-day period.