Politics & Government

Kentucky gets $1.9 million grant to clear backlog of about 3,000 untested sexual assault kits

The Kentucky State Police crime lab in Frankfort is getting $1.9 million to eliminate a backlog of an estimated 3,000 untested rape kits in police custody statewide.

The money, coming from the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. in New York, will pay for as many as 3,300 sexual assault kits to be tested at private labs during the next two years. The state crime lab will upload DNA profiles from the kits into the FBI's national database for possible matches. Also, a new state task force will be created to improve how rape kits are processed in the future.

"We now have the resources to address these backlogged rape kits, providing hope to the victims who had the courage to report the assault and undergo an invasive examination," state police commissioner Rodney Brewer said in a statement.

Kentucky's backlog of untested rape kits won attention last winter, when the General Assembly passed Senate Joint Resolution 20, instructing state Auditor Adam Edelen to determine how many untested kits are sitting at police departments around the state. Edelen's report is due shortly. Meanwhile, state police say they have about 1,000 untested kits in their custody and expect about 2,000 more to be turned in by local police in coming months.

Kentucky's grant is part of a combined $79 million effort by the White House and the Manhattan D.A. to help clear tens of thousands of rape kits around the country. The kits contain unique genetic evidence that can identify a sexual assailant — but only if a lab processes them.

"Rape kits are an essential tool in modern crime fighting — not only for the victim, but for the entire community," said Vice President Joe Biden, who joined U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Vance on Thursday to announce the grants.

The Manhattan D.A.'s office said it has established agreements with two private forensic labs to secure competitive rates for testing kits. Kits tested through the initiative will cost less than $675 each, significantly less than the estimated nationwide average of $1,000 to $1,500.