Only Balto. Co. applied for funds to process untested rape kits

Law enforcement agencies across the country have drawn on $80 million in federal grants to make significant progress in processing nearly 70,000 untested rape kits.

But Maryland — which has 3,700 untested kits, and is where Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski announced the federal Sexual Assault Kit Initiative in 2015 to help local officials clear their backlogs — has yet to see a dollar.

Almost no Maryland jurisdiction applied for grants, according to Justice Department records obtained by The Baltimore Sun through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Police in several Maryland jurisdictions told The Sun they hadn't applied for funds because they do not consider their untested kits to be a backlog. Rather, they thought testing was unnecessary.

Reasons police didn't test kits: the the identity of the alleged perpetrator was already known, investigators believed the accusation to be false, or the victim chose not to participate in a prosecution.

A task force convened by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh concluded in January that nearly all kits should be tested. The panel recommended statewide policies to guide local agencies.

"In overwhelming majority of cases, testing should be the rule, but it's not cheap," Frosh said. "It takes not only an agreement on policy, but also a financial commitment."

Rape kits contain evidence collected in a medical examination after a suspected sexual assault. Examiners extract blood, hair, saliva, semen and other DNA-bearing materials.

Testing costs an average of about $1,000 per kit, but the expense can vary widely with the complexity of the case.

The General Assembly approved legislation last week to require local law enforcement agencies to keep rape kits for 20 years. But a bill that would have required them to test the kits failed after some officials balked at the cost.

Daniel Katz, forensics director for the Maryland State Police, estimated that testing the 1,500 kits under his agency's jurisdiction would have cost $6 million, or $4,000 per kit.

The state police never applied for the federal funding because officials didn't believe they had a backlog to test.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger testified against the bill. He said testing all kits could draw money away from other priorities, and urged lawmakers not to tell local authorities how to manage their limited resources.

According to the Justice Department records, only Baltimore County applied for the federal funding. The request was rejected.

Baltimore County police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said police never learned why. They plan on reapplying this year.

The Sun obtained Baltimore County's 2015 application through a Public Information Act request. The department said it wanted the funding to test DNA evidence from hundreds of cold cases dating back to 1977.

That evidence was not listed in a state audit of untested rape kits, and officials told the attorney general's office that it has no backlog.

Armacost told The Sun that the department doesn't view the cold-case evidence as a backlog because it was collected before rape kit procedures were formalized at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

crentz@baltsun.com

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