More than 170 law enforcement agencies in Minnesota have them: unprocessed rape kits stashed in evidence storage that never went to the lab, some dating to the 1980s.
The Duluth Police Department found about 578 old kits, about 17 percent of the 3,482 untested rape kits from across Minnesota.
The Anoka County Sheriff's Office counted 495 of them. St. Cloud police found 306. Minneapolis police reported 194.
The counts are part of a highly anticipated report the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) released Thursday, more than three months after the Star Tribune requested the data. The Legislature directed the BCA last spring to find out how many unprocessed kits are at law enforcement agencies and why they weren't analyzed for DNA.
It's the state's most comprehensive look at a backlog that has generated outrage across the country. "There's clearly kits in this scenario that should have been tested," said Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, who sponsored the law. "There's just no way there is not."
The No. 1 reason agencies offered for not sending the kits to the lab is that the victim didn't want to pursue charges. A close second was a category labeled "other" that included reasons such as the assault accusations being unfounded or the investigation was closed. Many kits were not tested because prosecutors declined the cases.
In 329 cases, the agencies said they just didn't know why the kit wasn't processed.
"Now we can see that even in Minnesota where we think we do a great job supporting people, even here this is a problem," said Kristen Houlton Sukura, executive director of the nonprofit Sexual Violence Center in Minneapolis.
Yet she cautioned that some kits shouldn't be tested, because some victims don't want them to be.
"I would consider that a violation of their rights, a privacy issue," Houlton Sukura said.
Sexual assault exams are typically performed at hospitals and clinics where medical personnel use swabs, vials, combs and clippers to collect a bag of biological evidence from the victim. What happens next varies. Some hospitals keep and store the kits if victims don't want to file a crime report. Others send the kits to law enforcement for holding.
The new BCA report doesn't count untested exam kits stored at hospitals and other medical facilities. It also does not include the 157 kits that were queued up for processing at the BCA Laboratory. Those have since been tested.
Why Duluth pops out
Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said that his agency followed the BCA's guidelines for submitting kits for DNA testing and that kits sent to the lab are supposed to be part of an active investigation.
"If they didn't meet the guidelines, they weren't sent in," Ramsay said.
Ramsay said he thinks law enforcement agencies around the state weren't completely clear on which of the stored kits should be reported to the BCA for the inventory, "and that's why you see wide swings in numbers."
A victims' advocate in Duluth said she thinks the local practice of taking anonymous kits is a key reason Duluth's numbers pop out. With anonymous kits, victims consent to a sexual assault exam even if they don't want to file a police report. Completed kits are sent to the police without names but tagged with a case number for storage; the names are kept by an advocacy group in case victims change their minds. About 30 percent of Duluth's untested kits are anonymous.
It's a progressive, victim-centered approach, said Candy Harshner, head of the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault in Duluth.
In September, the Duluth Police Department scored a three-year, $1 million grant from the U.S. Justice Department to clean up the evidence refrigerator. Part of the money will go toward hiring an advocate to contact victims to see if they might want to move forward with cases that have been at a standstill.
St. Paul clears cases
The St. Paul Police Department said it had no untested kits. The agency cleaned house about five years ago and shipped all of its untested kits to the BCA.
"We just made the decision that there's probably some evidence that might be of value in these kits," St. Paul police spokesman Steve Linders said.
As a result of that DNA testing, the department was able to solve several cases, he said.
The Minneapolis Police Department has been sending batches of old kits over for DNA testing, but so far hasn't had any breakthrough hits, a police spokesman said.
Chief Deputy Tom Wells of the Anoka County Sheriff's Office said he's studying why it has so many kits in storage relative to other agencies. "I think we were very thorough in our reporting," Wells said.
Now, lab work takes longer
The BCA estimated that if it had an additional eight full-time workers, it could test all of the unprocessed kits in about three years — a project it estimated would cost $4.4 million.
While the new state law did not mandate more testing of rape kits, agencies have stepped up their efforts. The number of kits submitted to its laboratory for testing this year has jumped nearly 40 percent, the BCA said. And that's causing more delays. It likes to turn around DNA evidence in 30 days, it said, but it's now taking about two months to process a sexual assault kit. The jump in rape kits will slow processing times for other violent crime evidence, the BCA said.
Of the state's law enforcement agencies, 238 reporting having zero untested kits. But 25 simply did not respond, according to the BCA.
Schoen, the legislator who's also a police officer, said it was "unconscionable" that law enforcement agencies would not cooperate with the BCA.
He said agencies were contacted repeatedly and given extensions.
"At first blush, I'm pretty furious," he said. "Now I need to understand if that anger is legitimate."
He noted that the White Earth Tribal Police Department, for instance, did not submit a report.
Mike LaRoque, who became White Earth's police chief in August, said he would check with the BCA on the matter. LaRoque said he was told that the previous chief had reported the number and that they had just one untested kit "that was due to noncooperation."
Data editor MaryJo Webster contributed to this report.