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Audit finds Washington State Patrol has processed two-thirds of historic sexual assault evidence back-log

A technician processes a sexual assault kit at the Washington State Patrol Laboratory.
Courtesy of the Washington Auditor's Office
A technician processes a sexual assault kit at the Washington State Patrol Laboratory.

The state of Washington has made progress in testing kits that contain evidence from sexual assaults

Many of those kits sat in storage units for decades. Several years ago, the legislature ordered the State Patrol to process them.

A new audit has found that the State Patrol has process about two-thirds of its historic backlog.

A sexual assault kit is evidence a nurse collects after a person reports a an assault to law enforcement. Many sheriff’s offices and police departments have evidence going back as far as 40 years, but never had the DNA that was collected tested.

The legislature passed a law requiring local law enforcement agencies to submit their untested kits to the State Patrol by 2019 so the agency could have them processed by the end of 2021. They also required the State Patrol to set up a tracking system, so sexual assault survivors could check the status of their kits.

According to the audit, the reporting system is operational. But, many local law enforcement agencies missed the deadline to release their backlog of kits, and, because of Covid-19, the state was not able to hit its 2021 mark to test them.

Olha Bilobran, a senior auditor with the state Auditor’s office, says the State Patrol reported a number of challenges. The State Patrol tried to roll out several recommended best practices for processing the kit, such as contracting with outside labs, but found most did not have enough staff to process kits. When the State Patrol modernized its own lab, it also was slowed by pandemic challenges.

"For example, state patrol acquired new equipment that would help them automate processes and increase the number of kits they can test,” Bilobran said, “however because of the pandemic, they were not able to make that equipment fully operational.”

She says the new timeline is to have all historic kits tested by the end of the year, and the backlog of modern kits finished by the end of next year. She said in the next few years, the State Patrol’s progress and process will be audited again.

According to the audit, when the project started, there were 9,000 untested historic kits. That number is down to about 3,600 along with another 2,600 untested modern kits. That State Patrol usually receives about 2,000 new sexual assault evidence kits a year.