SALT LAKE CITY — An annual report from the Utah Bureau of Forensic Services shows that the state is processing rape kits more slowly than officials had hoped.
The report, published by lawmakers during a Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee meeting in October, shows that a number of rape kits are not being tested within timelines established by state officials.
Officials from the state crime lab have classified cases in three tiers based on certain criteria. For instance, cases are classified as first priority cases when “an immediate threat to public safety exists,” according to the report. Cases are labeled as second priority cases when “a court date is scheduled and imminent.” All other cases are given a third priority tag.
Each priority level is given a certain time frame goal when the analysis should be completed. For first priority, the goal is to finish testing the sexual assault kits within 30 days. For second priority the goal is within 60 days, and for third priority cases the goal is testing with 180 days.
Between July 2018 and June 2019, 33 first priority cases were completed. However, only eight of those cases were tested within the timeframe goal, and the other 25 were tested over 30 days after being received.
For the second and third tiers, not a single case was tested within the time frame goal.
The report says that the Bureau of Forensic Services is consistently working on their cases, and lab workers have made improvements to be more efficient in processing cases.
“However, there is currently a backlog of sexual assault cases and many will not be processed within the timelines established,” the report says.
Included in the report is a median total turnaround time. That metric per case was greater than the goals made by the Bureau of Forensic Services, the report says. However, officials say one positive point was that analysts had met their goals for testing DNA samples, meaning their processes are “becoming more efficient and streamlined,” the report says.
Officials also indicated that the median total turnaround time for third priority cases was over two years, with the number being 767 days. The report indicates this high number of days is “mainly a result of sexual assault kit submission volume and those cases having to wait in queue to be tested.”
In a footnote, the Bureau of Forensic Services notes that it hopes to cut down on wait times by July 2020. The bureau has the “ambitious target” of completing 90% of cases within 30 days of their submission.
The report is published regularly in compliance with House Bill 200, which was passed in 2017. The bill aimed to cut down on the backlog of rape kits that sat untested at the state crime lab.
When it was proposed in 2017, the fiscal note called for over $2 million in funding for the Bureau of Forensic Services. However, when the bill was passed only $989,090 was given to the bureau, which allowed for nine of the 17 requested positions to be filled.
Since then, nine analysts were hired and trained, but three would later leave for other jobs. During the 2019 legislative session, the Bureau of Forensic Services received funding for five additional analysts, which are being filled. The bureau indicated in the report that there is a remaining gap of three positions, which they will be requesting funding for in the coming months.