MILWAUKEE — More than 4,100 untested sexual assault evidence kits dating back to the 1980s in Wisconsin have finally been tested, state Attorney General Brad Schimel said Monday.
Schimel has been criticized for taking too long to finish testing, but the announcement provides the Republican attorney general with a notable accomplishment to tout as he seeks another term in office this November.
Schimel said there were many reasons why the kits went untested, but he focused on two: Sometimes law enforcement didn't believe the victims, while other times the crime was solved and the additional evidence wasn't needed. But he said testing every kit is critical for identifying criminals in other unsolved cases.
Schimel started a project in 2016 to test about 4,100 kits sitting on Wisconsin police department and hospital shelves. Although those have been tested, five kits submitted since June 1 have not and the results of 1,267 of the previously untested kits are still pending, according to figures from Wisconsin's Sexual Assault Kit Initiative.
"It's about bringing justice to survivors. It's about preventing future crimes," Schimel said. "And it's about changing the culture around responding to sexual assault."
Democrats including Josh Kaul, who is running against Schimel, have criticized Schimel for taking years to complete the testing and contend that the delays have left dangerous criminals on the streets.
Kaul said in a statement that "it's unacceptable that it's taken this long for testing to be completed," noting that it's been three years since the DOJ received $4 million in grants to do so. He also took issue with the fact that test results on more than 1,200 kits are still pending.
"Brad Schimel's incompetence has meant that justice has been delayed for survivors and that dangerous criminals have remained on the streets longer than they should have," Kaul said.
Schimel counters that it took time to inventory the kits and find private labs to analyze them. He had promised that the testing would be complete by the end of 2018.
Schimel said part of the reason for why it took Wisconsin as long as it did to eliminate the backlog of kits is that private labs were also dealing with other states' backlogs. Schimel said Florida had 13,000 untested kits in 2015, Detroit had 10,000 in 2009, and Washington state is still trying to determine its number of untested kits.