A group of Minneapolis city officials on Monday called for the state's top law enforcement agency to step up its efforts testing hundreds of unexamined rape kits stored by police.
Police officials acknowledged ongoing delays as the department continues to tackle a backlog of more than 1,700 untested rape kits, saying that it could take two years to test all the unexamined kits.
Minneapolis City Council Member Linea Palmisano, who is chairwoman of an audit committee reviewing the progress, focused her scrutiny on the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension after police declined to lay blame for the delays.
"It sounds like a nice way of saying the BCA isn't doing their job," Palmisano said of the state agency tasked with testing the kits. "Is the BCA doing their job?"
A senior police commander said that the department had already sent about 160 untested kits to the BCA's crime lab — but only a fraction had been processed.
"From that backlog, I believe eight," said deputy police chief Erick Fors.
Officials said they expect more progress in the coming months, with the addition of four new analysts from the city and Hennepin County to assist the BCA in processing the kits.
But the council authorized the $200,000 to hire two analysts only late last month, and city staff said they are still in the process of vetting and interviewing candidates.
"Absent the additional analysts, they were having capacity issues to process these, on top of current kits," Fors said of the BCA.
The BCA, through a spokeswoman, said that its crime lab receives 700 to 800 crime-scene DNA samples each month from police departments around the state.
Its current turnaround time of about 90 days has more than doubled from what it was in 2015.
"We expect that number to rise significantly with the addition of Minneapolis' approximately 1,700 unsubmitted kits," the agency said in a statement. Statewide, kit submissions to its crime lab have jumped about 56% since 2015, when police departments began releasing more detailed accounting of their untested kits, according to the BCA. Since 2018, submissions have gone up roughly 30%, the agency said.
"As we await the funding to start the hiring process for new dedicated scientists, the BCA is testing cases prioritized by Minneapolis as part of our current caseload with our existing scientists," the statement read. "The BCA will continue to work with Minneapolis PD on addressing their unsubmitted kits in a way that minimizes the impact on current cases, not only from MPD but from all law enforcement agencies across Minnesota."
Minneapolis' backlog was first uncovered last summer when an internal audit turned up more than 1,700 rape kits, some dating back 30 years, which hadn't been sent to the BCA for examination — a count that far surpassed the 194 untested kits reported during an earlier audit in 2015.
Interim city auditor Ryan Patrick said that another review since this summer's tally turned up an additional 75 untested kits.
Under state law enacted in 2018, police have 10 days to retrieve unrestricted exam kits from health care facilities and 60 days to submit them for testing. But, he said, a review found that in some cases rape kits were falling through the cracks, such as when a victim underwent a sexual assault exam at a medical facility outside the city.
Department officials said they were exploring the idea of setting up a statewide tracking system for kits, like those used in Iowa, Michigan and Idaho.
Police are not required to test every kit connected to a reported crime, including in cases in which they think the results hold no evidentiary value or where rape survivors decline to press charges, although they must explain why in writing.
Fors said that he still had no clear explanation for the "woefully inaccurate" 2015 audit, but said that the department has since embraced a more victim-centered and trauma-informed model for sexual assault investigations.
Even in situations where no charges are filed or the DNA doesn't immediately match a suspect, he said a sample can still be uploaded to the Combined DNA Index System, a national database that investigators can use to try to generate leads in other cases.
Officials estimated that it could take at two years to clear the backlog.
"This is terrible, and somebody needs to say that," said Council Member Jeremy Schroeder, who represents the 11th Ward in south Minneapolis. "I appreciate the proactivity of the department, but this is a pretty bad mistake."
The revelation of the untested kits came amid a national reckoning over sexual harassment and assault. It followed a Star Tribune series "Denied Justice," which documented widespread failings in the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault in Minnesota, including Minneapolis.
The department recently has joined other law enforcement agencies around the state in taking steps to identify and process every untested kit, including beefing up its Sex Crimes unit and hiring a victims' advocate to work alongside investigators and help rape survivors navigate the sometimes labyrinthine process of reporting an assault.