There are more than 5,000 sexual assault examination kits sitting untested in New Mexico, but Senate Bill 7 now under consideration in the state legislature provides money to test these kits in the fiscal year 2018-2019.
Bill 7 is currently sitting on the Senate Finance Committee desk.
In December 2016, the NM State Auditor released a report spotlighting the rape kit backlog.
APD crime labs will test over 3,000 kits while the Department of Public Safety Forensic lab in Santa Fe will test the remaining kits.
The money from the bill would partially cover the cost.
Making progress on ending the backlog and testing all kits statewide would cost the state close to $8.1 million.
After multiple attempts contacting Albuquerque City Council members regarding the budget gap in the testing of all backlog SAEK, they have not responded to any questions.
APD currently pays around $1,300 testing each kit.
A kit contains all the evidence gathered from a sexual assault victim by a nurse examiner — placed into bags and envelopes transferred to law enforcement agencies, where they are kept in backlog until sent to a forensic lab for DNA testing.
APD Crime Lab processing a single unit can take up to 20 hours. A forensic scientist will then need to analyze the results.
Celina Espinoza, APD Communications and Community Outreach Director said each kit is different and contains multiple submitted samples which can prolong the examination process.
“Along with a kit we could receive clothing, carpet, and bedding, which could factor in as well,” Espinoza said.
If the bill is passed, money would go to testing kits, auditing labs and police practices in handling kits.
The APD forensic science center currently has two supervisors, two technicians and three trainees processing DNA evidence.
“We have plans already in the works to hire additional scientists in an effort to clear up some of the untested kits currently,” Espinoza said. “So this bill could assist with this effort.”
Espinoza says aside from the backlog issue, just the fact that DNA testing is becoming more prevalent in court cases, the department needs more scientists to keep up with demand.
City of Albuquerque’s five point plan addressing rape kit backlog
The Albuquerque City Council addressed the backlog issue in a meeting in January. Members proposed that the APD work with the University of New Mexico (UNM) and Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) on creating programs increasing the number of graduates who qualify to work in crime labs.
The council is considering five main solutions to fix the rape kit backlog.
– The first solution involves local universities creating more incentives and scholarships for forensic students to finish school.
– The second is creating a team of experts who would watch the processes being made on the rape kits and report back to the city council.
– The third idea is with a special grant that would help the police department.
– The fourth option deals with the amount of money that forensic technicians make.
– The fifth solution calls for requesting state assistance in the processing of the kits.