INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Thousands of sexual assault kits sitting on shelves in Indianapolis will get a second look, thanks to a $1.4 million grant awarded by the Department of Justice.
The DOJ's Office of Justice Programs announced the grant in early December, along with similar grants to 14 other communities as part of the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, or SAKI. The initiative, which launched in 2015, aims to identify previously unsubmitted sexual assault kits that could be tested for DNA.
CBS4 Problem Solvers began investigating the city's large number of untested sexual assault kits last year. Leaders at the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said then that they believed the department housed more than 6,000 kits, but did not know an exact number or how many of the kits had been tested.
Investigation Division Major Catherine Cummings sat down with CBS4 Problem Solvers' Jill Glavan late last week to talk about the grant. She said IMPD worked with city agencies, the Marion County Forensic Services Agency and Marion County Prosecutor's Office to decide to apply for the grant, which will allow the city to hire new staff members to help audit and test kits, plus investigate cases that are determined to be eligible to be reopened.
"It’s very labor intensive. It’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of effort to do this, but we think it’s important," Cummings said.
Over the past decade, communities across the country have begun testing old sexual assault kits, in some cases leading to DNA hits and long-awaited justice for survivors. Advocates like Kristen Pulice and the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault have pushed for more testing in Indiana.
"We have precedent in other states, such as Ohio, that shows you’re catching serial rapists this way," Pulice said earlier this year.
"If the community says we want this and we can’t change it that day, it doesn’t mean that we’re not listening and that we’re not looking for ways to make those changes that the community is asking for," Cummings said.
Indiana legislators commissioned a statewide audit of untested kits two years ago, led by Indiana State Police. The audit found that nearly half of the kits in possession of law enforcement, about 2,500 total, were untested. The audit did not account for all of Marion County's kits, though. According to IMPD, conflicting computer systems rendered data incomplete and a kit-by-kit count would be required to get a full number.
Cummings said the city will hire a site coordinator who will oversee the multi-year project. The coordinator's first step will be to initiate a full audit to get a complete picture of the kits in Marion County.
"That’s to look at, what do you have, what has been partially tested, why or why not? What is still valid for testing?" Cummings said.
The grant also requires the city to create a working group that will meet regularly to discuss the audit and possible policy changes to prevent large numbers of kits from going untested in the future. Cummings said the department will hire part-time investigators and work with the prosecutor's office to identify cases that could be reworked, potentially leading to justice for the people behind the kits.
"That’s what matters most- utilizing our resources in the best way and taking care of the people who have been victimized," Cummings said.
For more information about the SAKI grant, go to the link here.
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