Law enforcement agencies respond to CNN’s rape kit investigation

CNN’s investigation into the destruction of rape kits in dozens of agencies across the country found that police trashed evidence in 400 cases before the statute of limitations expired or when there was no statute of limitations. | See “Destroyed” »

The cases came from 25 agencies in 14 states. The table below lists those agencies and the number of kits destroyed.

Reporters focused on cases CNN called “unsolved,” meaning cases police described as open or in which investigators never identified or apprehended the perpetrator; prosecutors declined to charge a suspect; victims declined to participate in an investigation; or an investigation stopped because leads ran dry. (Some law enforcement agencies disputed CNN’s use of “unsolved” to describe these cases, which they traditionally define more narrowly as cases in which police have not identified a suspect.)

To determine which kits were destroyed while there was still time to prosecute, reporters calculated the shortest possible statutes of limitations for the sex crimes listed in case files and compared those to each kit’s destruction date.

CNN excluded cases that ended in arrest, went to court, in which police determined no crime occurred and in which agencies or a lab may have retained evidence from a kit.

CNN’s tally is likely an undercount; some cases could have carried longer statutes of limitations than reporters could determine or no statutes of limitations at all. | Read more about “How CNN reported on rape kit destruction” »

Reporters sent the findings and data to each agency and asked that they review and correct any data errors and respond to CNN’s conclusions. Some agencies participated in interviews, which are summarized below. Others replied with the written statements below. (Some have been edited for clarity.) Two agencies did not reply.

There are an estimated 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the country. The agencies in this project may not be representative of others. And because they vary in size and many other factors, they should not be ranked or compared based on these figures.

Rape kit destruction nationwide

A CNN investigation into the destruction of rape kits in dozens of agencies across the country found that police trashed evidence in about 400 cases before the statutes of limitations expired or when there was no time limit to prosecute. Twenty-five agencies in 14 states destroyed kits tied to cases while they could still be prosecuted.
State Agency Kits Response
MO Springfield Police Department 108

Statement: Like many other agencies across the country, the Springfield Police Department (SPD) continues to evolve and grow alongside the community we serve. The shift in how society approaches sexual assault and domestic violence has been significant and resulted in changes to how policing agencies serve these victims. In some places law enforcement has been slow to adjust; but SPD has been, and will continue to be, proactive in implementing new and improved practices in responding to and investigating such crimes. Here are some examples of what SPD has done to ensure that we most effectively and emphatically serve the citizens of Springfield:

  • SPD researched to see if there was a backlog of sexual assault kits within our agency. Once we determined there had been a number of stored rape kits that had not been tested, we began the process of finding ways to test the backlogged kits.
    • Missouri Highway Patrol Crime Lab agreed to accept all untested kits from SPD that were less than one-year-old.
    • Piloted a program with the Missouri Highway Patrol Crime Lab to systematically process the remaining untested kits (i.e. 10 per month).
    • Applied for and accepted as a member of the SAK Partnership with the FBI/Department of Justice to fund the testing of backlogged kits (30 approved for testing in Aug 2017, but acceptance delayed until April 2018, no word on additional testing availability).
  • In 2014, SPD became one of the first agencies in Missouri to begin submitting all rape kits to the crime lab for testing.
  • In 2014 Chief Williams attended IACP’s Violence Against Women executive training program and Captain (then Lieutenant) Tad Peters attended the VAW supervisor training. A thorough review of all related SPD policy and practices was conducted and is ongoing.
  • In 2013, we created and implemented a Domestic Violence Lethality Assessment to assist victims in identifying indicators that may predict future domestic or sexual assault.
  • We continue to provide trauma-informed sexual assault training to allow investigators to have a better understanding of victims’ perspectives and behaviors.
  • We worked with the Missouri Attorney General’s office to:
    • Survey all state agencies (law enforcement and medical) to determine how many untested rape kits existed in Missouri
    • Seek the state legislature’s help in allocating budget money to fund the testing of the backlogged kits throughout the state
    • Support the AG’s grant application for funding to create a statewide tracking program for rape kits and to provide money to test all the backlogged kits in Missouri.
    • Continue to work with a variety of organizations to create a state-wide tracking and testing program for rape kits (which includes SPD’s practice of submitting all kits for testing).
  • In 2018, SPD worked in conjunction with area service agencies to open one of only 25 Family Justice Centers in the country. The goal of the center is to make the criminal justice system easier to navigate for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

As law enforcement professionals, we are constantly looking for ways to improve. Over the past several years, we have taken [an] active role to make changes to alleviate the issue of sexual violence within our community, and to better serve victims, and we will continue to do so in the years to come. It is disappointing to see that you continue to focus your efforts on the past, without including any information on the present, nor any mention of what the future might hold.

Chief Paul Williams
Springfield Police Department
November 6, 2018

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FL Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office 62

Statement: We have spent months receiving, responding and factually fulfilling CNN’s public records requests. We have nothing further to add at this time.

Teri Barbera
Public Information Officer
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office
October 30, 2018

MD Combined County Criminal Investigation Unit 37

The Combined County Criminal Investigation Unit did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.

ID Coeur d’Alene Police Department 25

In an email to CNN, Chief Lee White declined to review the cases in which reporters determined rape kits were destroyed before the statute of limitations expired. He also declined to participate in additional interviews, adding that the department has “been very accommodating and spent a huge number of hours” responding to reporters’ inquiries.

In a past interview, White did not dispute that the department destroyed kits before the expiration of the statute of limitations and said the department currently submits all kits to the state crime lab for analysis.

NM Las Cruces Police Department 22

Statement: The New Mexico Department of Public Safety (NMDPS) currently mandates all law enforcement agencies to submit sexual assault kits regardless of the potential disposition of a case. This mandate is supported by state legislation that was implemented this year. NMDPS is currently working with New Mexico law enforcement agencies to recommend a model policy for all agencies to follow pertaining to the disposition of the kits.

Lieutenant Edgar Rosa
Las Cruces Police Department
October 11, 2018

WA Seattle Police Department 18

In an interview with CNN, Sergeant Sean Whitcomb, a spokesman for the Seattle Police Department, said “all sexual assault kits should be held and maintained to the statute of limitations and — quite honestly — beyond, if they’ve not been tested yet.”

Whitcomb acknowledged the agency’s past destruction of kits but said it ended in February 2018, after efforts to locate untested kits uncovered the practice.

“If our organizational values are that we’re going to test every kit, then how is it even possible that kits should be destroyed?” Whitcomb asked, adding that “the organization understands the intrinsic value of DNA evidence; If not connected to one specific crime, perhaps connected to other crimes.”

The department has since revised its protocols, said Assistant Chief Deanna Nollette, the commander of the Criminal Investigations Bureau.

“We’ve now closed that gap,” Nollette said. “[A kit] has to be tested and it has to be retained.”

UT Ogden Police Department 17

Statement: The Ogden Police Department has always considered rape and sexual assault cases to be priority cases and rape kits as critical to the process of a complete and thorough investigation. During the time focused on by CNN in its investigation, the Ogden Police Department complied with the directives of the Utah State Crime Lab in terms of storage and submission of rape kits for evidence purposes. Rape kits not meeting the directives were held for a length of time consistent with the status of the investigation and were then disposed of. As laws, lab capabilities, and prioritization of cases evolved, the Ogden Police Department’s policies and procedures evolved as well. At all times, the Ogden Police Department was in compliance with the then-current Utah State Crime Lab procedures. The Ogden Police Department continually monitored the effects of rapid technology changes on sex crimes investigations and began storing all rape kits in 2016, regardless of the Utah State Crime Lab’s ability to store and process the kits. When Utah State law changed to mandate 100% storage of rape kits in 2018, the Ogden Police Department had already been doing that for almost two years.

Chief Steven R. Watt
Ogden Police Department
October 2, 2018

UT West Valley City Police Department 17

In an interview and written correspondence with CNN, Roxeanne Vainuku, a spokeswoman for the West Valley Police Department, did not have comment about CNN’s conclusions that kits were destroyed before the expiration of the statute of limitations. She stressed that the West Valley Police Department has changed its procedures for sex crimes cases. Every sexual assault case is reviewed by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office regardless of whether a victim chooses to assist in an investigation. And, she said, all rape kits are sent to the state lab to be tested and kits are kept indefinitely.

NM Farmington Police Department 14

Statement: The issue of the destruction of sexual assault kits is an important topic. The Farmington Police Department has spent a considerable amount of time over the past year and a half reviewing such cases with CNN. During this time, we conducted a review of our policies regarding the destruction of kits and recognized areas that needed improvement. As a result of this process, we have made changes to reflect best practices as set forth by industry experts. Going forward, FPD will maintain sexual assault kits until the statute of limitation expires. For first-degree sexual assault offenses, there is no statute of limitation, therefore, kits in these cases will be kept indefinitely. We understand sexual assault is a difficult topic; we commend CNN for taking it on and we were pleased to play a role in this discussion. We feel this process has resulted in better policies for FPD and the citizens we serve.

Georgette M. Allen
Public Information Officer
Farmington Police Department
November 2, 2018

MI Lapeer Police Department 10

Statement: The City of Lapeer and the Lapeer Police Department have updated our policies regarding sexual assault evidence kits, bringing them into alignment with Michigan Public Act 227 of 2014. We acknowledge that in the past, some kits were destroyed before all possible legal steps had been exhausted and we apologize for this. That will no longer be the case. We view these issues as a high priority for our community and will be following the policies required by state law.

Chief David W. Frisch
Lapeer Police Department
November 16, 2018

ID Moscow Police Department 10

Statement: The 10 cases CNN identified were classified by CNN as unsolved cases. According to its email, CNN’s definition of unsolved cases are those that “were open or inactive and cases in which a victim was perceived as uncooperative or a prosecutor declined charges.”

I have reviewed every case that CNN referenced and I would not consider any of the cases as “unsolved cases” per CNN’s definition. Every case was closed, had an identified complaining witness/alleged victim and an identified suspect/accused. In every case the issue was one of consent. The investigations were complete in that evidence was collected, witnesses were interviewed, investigations were closed and submitted to the Latah County Prosecutor’s office for review to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to file charges. In every case, the sexual assault kits would have confirmed what investigators already knew, which was the identity of the suspect. Every case was declined for prosecution due to there being insufficient evidence that rape occurred. In every case except one the suspect/accused acknowledged a sexual act occurred but said it was consensual. The sexual assault kits would not have provided evidence to prove whether the acts were consensual or nonconsensual. In the one case where the accused denied having sex with the complaining party/alleged victim, the alleged victim said she did not physically resist and told police she did not want to pursue an investigation.

In every case, the kits were destroyed after the investigations were complete and the Latah County Prosecutor’s office declined filing charges due to insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime occurred. The kits were then destroyed pursuant to the policy that was in place at that time.

Generally speaking, one of the main reasons a rape kit is collected is to identify:

  1. Presence of semen that would potentially lead to identification of an unknown assailant; or
  2. Proof that penetration occurred in the event the assailant was denying any penetration occurred.

In situations where the complaining party and the accused both agree a sexual event occurred, but the only issue is one of consent, the benefit of testing the rape kit is irrelevant.

The Moscow Police Department takes investigations into sexual assault cases seriously. The Moscow Police Department has been a partner in a task force that brings together a multidisciplinary team of community partners to discuss challenges, successes and strategies to address the issues presented. The Moscow Police Department refers every sexual assault investigation, once completed, to the Latah County Prosecutor’s Office for review. The Latah County Prosecutor’s Office then responds by requesting additional follow up, requesting a probable cause affidavit be prepared to file charges, or will decline prosecution and authorize the release of evidence per policy, which is what occurred in these cases.

Mia Vowels
City Attorney
Moscow, Idaho
October 10, 2018

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UT Salt Lake City Police Department 9

In an interview with CNN, Sergeant Derek Christensen, who oversees the department’s special victims unit, agreed that the department destroyed rape kits before the statute of limitations expired. In reviewing CNN’s findings, he said his agency appeared to destroy kits “without really any cause.” Today, he said, the department submits all rape kits to the Utah state crime lab. Salt Lake City police have received additional training in sex crimes investigations best practices, Christensen said, and the department added more detectives to handle the volume of sex crimes reported.

“I think our department has opened our eyes a little more toward these cases,” he said.

SC North Charleston Police Department 9

In an interview and written correspondence with CNN, Major Scott Perry, North Charleston’s detective bureau commander, and Lieutenant Cathy Stanley did not dispute CNN’s findings that the department destroyed rape kits in a state with no statute of limitations on any criminal offense. They said the department currently sends all rape kits to the state crime lab for testing. After evidence is tested, Stanley said, rape kits may be destroyed under the following circumstances: when victims become uncooperative with investigators; victims admit to making a false allegation or when cases reach disposition in court. The department maintains all evidence in cases of conviction for the length of time a person is behind bars, she said.

Perry disputed CNN’s use of “open” to describe certain cases, explaining that the department considers them “closed either administratively or exceptionally.” He added that “just because a case is placed in a closed status, that doesn’t mean it cannot be re-opened for further investigation.”

ID Nampa Police Department 8

Statement: The Nampa Police Department takes reports of sexual violence very seriously. We absolutely agree with the point that sexual assault kits should be kept much longer than they were in the cases CNN is illustrating, for the same reasons CNN just listed. We believe that there is a much better understanding of the dynamics of sexual assault within our agency now than there was five or 10 years ago or, for that matter, even 2-3 years ago. There has been much more emphasis on training to help officers and investigators better understand victims of trauma.

There are three main reasons we believe kits were prematurely destroyed:

  1. There did not appear to be an issue of suspect identification;
  2. There did not appear to be enough evidence to charge the offender; or
  3. The victim did not seem to want to move forward with their case or had stopped communicating with law enforcement.

In reviewing these cases, they appear to have stalled for one of the aforementioned reasons and that appears to be the reason the kits were destroyed within a couple years of the collection. Currently, our processing of sexual assault kits has gone from an unacceptable low of less than 20% three years ago to over 90% being tested currently.

Having a better understanding of trauma today, it is clear that victims of these crimes do not “cooperate” for a number of reasons. The many stages of the investigative and prosecutorial process can be overwhelming, frightening, discouraging and much, much more for victims… As an agency, it is clear to us that we’ve had some deficiencies in training and policies for a period of time and we are working diligently to get those things corrected. We believe these kits should be kept for the statute of limitations, but that understanding wasn’t as clear to many of our officers — myself included — three or four years ago.

The emphasis of victim-centered approaches to crime is to give victims as much control as possible in the decisions made during an investigation and to keep them involved through the process. One of the biggest controls they can have is deciding when to tell their story. In order to preserve that ability, we have come to recognize that evidence needs to be collected as soon as possible and then preserved for as long as the law requires, in order to give victims the opportunity to get to a point that they can engage in the criminal justice system. This can take years. This is part of the training on trauma-informed investigations. Another way for victims to have control of the process is to decide for themselves whether they want their kit tested. We believe that the progress made so far in our training and in statute is helping to provide victims more control in these cases. We know better now that destroying kits, because of the reasons listed above, does not benefit the victims or the future potential of solving these crimes.

Another part of that training has focused on tonic immobility and how victims of sexual assault may naturally feel like they cannot think, move, or make decisions; like a state of paralysis impacting decision making. This might come across in victim interviews when they can’t explain why they didn’t push an attacker away or why they didn’t lock the door, or why it might appear that they were consenting when, in fact, they were merely submitting. It can also explain why victims remember some memories clearly, but obvious details aren’t clear at all. Disassociation, which also occurs often in trauma, can further explain irregular characteristics of memory recovery. We want this knowledge to be universal throughout our agency. Our officers today have a better understanding of the fact that the memories created and stored during traumatic events are not created and stored the same as other events.

Lieutenant Eric Skoglund
Nampa Police Department
October 16, 2018

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NV Fallon Police Department 7

In an interview with CNN, Michael Mackedon, an attorney representing the Fallon Police Department, did not dispute that the police department destroyed rape kits before expiration of the statute of limitations.

“I don’t know that it was their policy to destroy [kits] prior to the [expiration],” he said. “I think that happened in certain cases where they felt there wasn’t a basis for prosecution.”

He said that after CNN raised questions about the destruction of a child’s rape kit and how that investigation was handled, he asked the department to stop destroying all rape kits.

“Rather than get into the subtleties or nuance, the better practice is […] simply: They are not hard to keep, so keep ’em.”

In a follow-up email, Donald Lattin, another attorney representing Fallon, said the city “is now maintaining all rape kits for at least the requisite statute of limitation period.”

MD Elkton Police Department 7

The Elkton Police Department did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.

LA Monroe Police Department 3

Statement: The cases CNN identified occurred under the former chief of police’s tenure. I was appointed as chief of police of the Monroe Police Department on February 1, 2018. Therefore, it is impossible for me to comment on matters that occurred while I was not the chief of police and had no knowledge of. However, after being informed of this matter, I am reviewing all procedures regarding rape kits to ensure that we are in compliance with all federal, state and local laws for rape kits.

We do not destroy and will not destroy any rape kit.

Chief Eugene Ellis
Monroe Police Department
October 5, 2018

UT South Salt Lake Police Department 3

Statement: There is no additional information that the police department will add to this inquiry.

Gary Keller
Public Information Officer
South Salt Lake Police Department
November 8, 2018

ID Mountain Home Police Department 3

Statement: Mountain Home Police Department was able to reconstruct an outline of events or actions taken in regard to these kits through our records. However, because of staffing changes including the county prosecutor, chief of police and evidence room custodian since these kits were destroyed, we are unable to speculate on specific circumstances or provide context related to their destruction in all cases. Mountain Home Police take our responsibility to serve and protect our citizens seriously, and we can assure everyone that we are currently operating in compliance with Idaho Code 67-2919(6).

Michael Freeman
Communications Director
City of Mountain Home
November 19, 2018

ID Boise Police Department 3

Statement: In 2016, when CNN began collecting data for this project, Idaho law was also updated to address many of the same concerns CNN is presenting. The Boise Police Department (BPD) has not only taken great strides to comply with the 2016 changes in Idaho law (Idaho Code 67-2919), but several members of our agency have also taken leadership roles in the statewide Idaho Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Group, writing protocol for all law enforcement agencies to follow when conducting sexual assault investigations. We also conducted an audit of all sexual assault kits in our possession dating back to 1995, using the new guidelines, and ultimately sent 93% of those kits for processing.

The BPD cases CNN identified were investigated in compliance with the law at that time and BPD submitted sexual assault kits in accordance with the submission requirements of the Idaho State Police Forensic laboratory. The four sexual assault kits in the cases CNN pointed out were approved to be destroyed by the detective. Under today’s guidelines, that decision would need to go through a more stringent approval process that includes our legal department and the Ada County Prosecutor. We agree that in a state with no statute of limitations for rape, sexual assault kits should not be destroyed and now we keep all kits even if prosecution is declined.

The Boise Police Department has supported recent changes in the law regarding sexual assault kits and understands that the value of the sexual assault kit is more than just identifying a suspect in one case.

Haley Williams
Public Information Officer
Boise Police Department
October 18, 2018

NY Jamestown Police Department 2

Statement: At face value, [experts’ claims that sexual assault kits should be maintained for the time allowed by law to prosecute] is a fair criticism. However, in the cases CNN identified, there were several examples of why we would not retain the evidence kits. They include victims recanting their statements and investigations revealing that the acts were consensual or did not occur. If there is no crime committed, there is no need to retain the evidence. There have been some changes and proposed legislation in the handling of sexual assault kits in New York State. As of February 26, 2017, a law enforcement agency must submit any sexual offense evidence kit that it receives or collects to an appropriate forensic laboratory within 10 days of receipt. Additionally, there has been proposed legislation requiring the retention of all kits for extended periods of time. As CNN’s investigation showed, we have been retaining all kits since 2013. We have been following this practice in anticipation of these changes.

Chief Harry Snellings
Jamestown Police Department
October 16, 2018

WY Riverton Police Department 2

In an interview with CNN, Chief Eric Murphy said it “would not have been out of the ordinary” for the department to destroy rape kits in 2011 and 2012 because victims stopped cooperating with police. The agency was following the directive of a different chief, he said.

“Unfortunately, it was just the way we did business back then,” Murphy said.

Murphy, who became chief in 2016, said he has made it clear that rape kits should be maintained. In response to CNN’s findings, Murphy emailed, “I am always willing to talk about procedures and how we operate. We are not perfect and cannot hope to be better if we don’t have open minds and [are] willing to try new and different things.”

SC Myrtle Beach Police Department 2

In an interview and written correspondence with CNN, Lieutenant Tony Allen disputed reporters’ classification of two rape kits the agency destroyed in a state where there is no time limit on prosecuting any criminal offense as being tied to “unsolved” cases. He said the cases were “administratively closed” due to “the nonresponsive behavior of the alleged victims” and because there was not enough evidence to establish that a crime occurred.

“At one time, probably […] there may have been some [rape] kits that were disposed of because the case was administratively closed,” Allen said. “But several years ago, our agency ended up changing that practice.”

He said Myrtle Beach no longer destroys kits when victims become reluctant to continue to work with police.

“If a victim does change their mind,” he said, “we want to make sure that we have things in place so that we can move forward with an investigation,” Allen said “That’s not to say that mistakes or mishaps won’t occur,” he added, “but as a general practice with this agency, we do not destroy that kind of evidence.”

NM Albuquerque Police Department 1

As a result of CNN bringing this issue to light, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller is directing the Albuquerque Police Department to change its policy related to the destruction of sexual assault kits for unsolved cases. APD will revise its policy to ensure the kits are preserved as long as the statute of limitations applies. The kits will be preserved, even if the department receives a disposition from the District Attorney that determines the evidence may not be needed. We agree it is appropriate to preserve sexual assault kits so they are available if an unsolved case is re-opened for any reason.

Gilbert Gallegos
Director of Communications
Albuquerque Police Department
November 21, 2018

IA Davenport Police Department 1

Statement: The Davenport Police Department has partnered with the Office of the Attorney General of Iowa Crime Victim Assistance Division. With this partnership, a comprehensive training program has been developed. This training program will commence in November 2018; and, will include information pertaining to initial contact and communication with victims and suspects, report writing, investigative considerations and the psychological effect of trauma to the victim.

All officers will attend the training. Detectives who work directly with sexual assault/abuse cases receive training specifically focused on sexual assault investigations as the cases pertain to the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative.

Another statement issued March 8, 2017:

Since the beginning of my tenure in 2016 as Davenport Police Chief, personnel have been actively working on reviewing our protocols of sex crime investigations. In addition to our current Property & Evidence System, the Criminal Investigation Division is establishing a comprehensive case tracking system which includes case review and consultation with the Scott County Attorney Office specifically regarding sexual assault cases. This tracking system will include the submission and or disposition of sex assault kits and other evidence. It will also encompass recommendations made by the Iowa Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI).

In Davenport, detectives assigned to the Juvenile Unit receive training specific to the investigation of sexual assault cases. These detectives are part of two separate multi-disciplinary teams: the Sex Assault Response Team (SART) which meets monthly and the Trauma Team which meets bi- monthly. These teams include law enforcement, county attorneys, emergency room medical staff, Child Protective Services, and the Department of Human Resources.

We will continue analyzing our protocols and assessing the need for further training, education and standardization.

I want to emphasize that our priority is to do whatever is necessary to help victims of sexual assault. The men and women of the Davenport Police Department are advocates of legislation which will enhance our ability for the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases for the victims.

Chief Paul Sikorski
Davenport Police Department
October 23, 2018