This 2001 file photo shows a sexual assault evidence collection kit. Robert Willett News & Observer
This 2001 file photo shows a sexual assault evidence collection kit. Robert Willett News & Observer

Durham County

Durham police hold the most untested sexual-assault evidence kits in NC. Why?

By Joe Johnson

jjohnson@heraldsun.com

March 05, 2018 06:00 AM

DURHAM

A report released by North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein Wednesday showed the Durham Police Department had the highest number of untested sexual assault evidence kits in evidence inventory of any law enforcement agency in the state.

A new state law required all law enforcement agencies to report their numbers of untested rape kits to the N.C. Department of Justice earlier this year. The inventory was conducted from July 1-Dec. 31, 2017. Statewide, 92 percent of the 563 agencies responded.

The Durham Police Department had the highest overall number of untested kits (1,711) and the highest number of kits (1,350) falling into the “Other” category in Stein’s report. Durham’s percentage of kits (78.9 percent) in this category also was the highest of any agency that had more than 22 kits in evidence. The Durham Police Department Crime Abatement Report for 2017 listed 132 forcible rape cases last year.

Durham police spokesman Wil Glenn said there are numerous reasons for not having every kit tested.

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There are certain instances such as when a suspect is identified after the evidence kit is collected or when the case involves a domestic incident in which the people are known to one another, that the kits are not tested, Glenn said.

Durham police hold those untested kits in case they are needed in the future, Glenn said.

“The Durham Police Department follows the protocols set by the State Bureau of Investigation’s Evidence Guide,” Glenn said.

Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols was bothered by the high number of untested kits held by Durham police.

“It’s a concern,” Echols said. “It begs some questions. What are the reasons they are untested? If they were tested, would they lead to a viable sexual assault case? How old are some of these kits?”

It’s a concern. It begs some questions. What are the reasons they are untested? If they were tested, would they lead to a viable sexual assault case? How old are some of these kits?

Roger Echols, Durham County District Attorney

The oldest kit in Durham police inventory dates back to 1988, Glenn said.

Overall the report showed 15,160 untested kits statewide. About half of those (7,545) were listed in the “Other” category that appeared unresolved by law enforcement agencies. The remaining kits either were tied to cases settled in court (2,741), the suspect admitted to the crime (1,054) or the allegations were determined to be unfounded after further investigation (3,820). A tiny fraction (390) were from victims who wished to remain anonymous and did not report the incident to law enforcement.

Durham, Raleigh and Winston-Salem were the only cities whose police departments were holding more than 1,000 untested kits. Raleigh police had 1,074 “Other” kits of its 1,428 untested total (75.2 percent). Winston-Salem police did a better job of testing, having 436 out of 1,339 untested kits (32.6 percent) listed as “Other.”

The Durham County Sheriff’s Office had 45 total untested kits with 16 falling into the “Other” category. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office had 32 of its 84 kits listed as “Other.” The Chapel Hill Police Department had three untested kits but all three were resolved after further investigations found the allegations unfounded. The Hillsborough Police Department had 14 of 22 kits in the “Other” category. The Carrboro Police Department held 13 kits with six others, though six others were found to have baseless allegations.

Duke University Police had 14 kits with nine being unresolved when the report to the state was due. Since then, it was determined that five of the kits belonged to other law enforcement agencies after being held by Duke police following victim examinations at Duke University Hospital. The remaining four were held when the victim chose to stop the criminal case and pursue a university process, according to Duke University spokeswoman Kristen Brown.

UNC-Chapel Hill Police held 52 kits with 30 being categorized as “Other.” N.C. Central Police had six kits with four that were unresolved.

Until this report, the number of untested kits law enforcement hold throughout the state was unknown.

Stein’s report included three recommendations. It calls for all reported kits in law enforcement custody to be tested, for the creation of a statewide tracking system for the kits and the development of a statewide protocol to test all kits in the future.

The State Crime Lab specifies how the kits are made. They are distributed to medical facilities throughout the state for use during forensic medical exams of patients reported to have been victims of sexual assault.

The kits are then turned over to law enforcement for further investigation. The physical evidence collected is supposed to be submitted to a forensic laboratory for testing, to include trace, blood and DNA examinations.

It costs about $700 for outside vendors to test the kits, according to the report.

Joe Johnson: 919-419-6678, @JEJ_HSNews