Maryland fails (again) to get federal funds to process untested rape kits

For the third year in a row, Maryland will not take part of a robust federal funding program to process untested rape kits.

Maryland has 3,700 untested kits across the state, according to a state audit of police departments last year.

In the first two years of the federal grant program to facilitate testing of tens of thousands of backlogged rape kits nationwide, one Maryland law enforcement agency — the Baltimore County Police Department — applied for the federal grant. The application was denied. A county police spokeswoman told The Baltimore Sun the department was not given the reason for the denial.

The department applied again this year for money to test evidence from decades-old sexual assault cases. Several state legislators wrote a letter supporting the application.

But when the U.S. Justice Department announced $34 million of new grants this month, no Maryland jurisdiction was named as part of the award.

A summary of the denial from the Justice Department, forwarded to The Baltimore Sun by the Baltimore County Police, points to an incomplete grant application: “The applicant has the capacity and expertise to test the 2,010 unsubmitted kits, since it already has the ‘system’ in place. However, the project design and implementation section needs to provide more details — for example, the goals and objectives.”

Nearly all jurisdictions that have applied for the grants in the last three years have eventually received funds, Justice Department data show.

The Washington State Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs is one of the rare entities that was rejected twice. Executive Director Mitch Barker told The Sun the association was rejected because it’s a nonprofit organization, not a governmental entity. The Washington State’s Attorney applied this year and won.

In August, for the first time, the federal government issued best practices for testing rape kits, including a recommendation to process nearly all kits — even those in cases where the suspect was known, as long as the victim consented to testing.

A funding and policy committee created by the General Assembly this year is now tasked with finding best practices to fund rape kit testing and processing. Elizabeth Embry, chair of the committee and chief of the criminal division state attorney general, said she anticipates a first batch of recommendations before or shortly after the next legislative session starts in January.

crentz@baltsun.com

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