ORLANDO, Fla. - More than 8,000 backlogged rape kits that had not been analyzed for DNA evidence have now been tested, yielding thousands of hits, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
FDLE officials said the effort to test the sexual assault kits began in 2015 when the agency received legislative funding and grants to test the kits that had offense dates prior to July 1, 2016, and at least a 90-day gap between the offense date and the date of lab submission.
Beginning in 2015, agencies across the state began submitting older kits to FDLE for processing and then eligible DNA profiles were uploaded into the Combined DNA Index System to determine if a match could be made to an offender whose DNA was already in the database.
In total, 8,023 sexual assault kits were processed, resulting in 1,814 CODIS hits. Of the more than 8,000 kits tested, 1,842 came from Central Florida, and they resulted in 426 CODIS hits.
Here's how the numbers broke down for Central Florida:
A spokesperson from the Orange County Sheriff's Office noted that the numbers for Orange County came from multiple agencies. For the Orange County Sheriff's Office specifically, 326 sexual assault kits were submitted, and they returned 68 CODIS hits.
"Any time we are able to submit additional kits for testing and possibly get justice for victims – that’s a great thing for law enforcement. We commend the state’s commitment to testing this evidence. We will never relent when it comes to tracking down suspects in these heinous crimes," she said.
FDLE Senior Crime Lab Analyst Shawn Johnson said the work to clear the backlogs was clinical and precise.
“It’s important for the community,” Johnson said. “I don’t think the community necessarily realized the number of sexual assaults that occur because a lot of people don’t report them.”
After a sample taken from a victim is tested for DNA and entered into CODIS, Johnson and others in his position rarely find out what evidence was revealed.
“Most of the time we do not know how the cases turn out, because the volume is so high,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of people are relieved and not to mention getting those people off the streets. That the crimes they would have committed in the future are stopped.”
Johnson believes it's possible that some crimes could have been prevented if the tests had been done sooner. Some of the kits had been tucked away in evidence rooms for years.
“A lot of the victims went many years not knowing where their assailant was,” Johnson said. “Out on the streets, in jail. (They were) living in fear, I’m sure.”
As FDLE's numbers became public on Friday, several leaders across the state applauded the agency.
“DNA evidence is critical to solving sexual assault crimes,” Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried said. “Thanks to the dedicated professionals at FDLE, Florida has taken a leap forward in securing justice, helping victims to heal, and holding perpetrators accountable for their despicable actions. Today, a clear message has been sent that time may pass, but justice will be served.”
With the completion of the project, FDLE officials believe the majority of backlogged rape kits have been tested but law enforcement agencies are urged to submit any additional untested evidence they might have,
Any CODIS hits or other pertinent information the testing yielded was given back to the appropriate agency so arrests could be made when applicable. It's unclear how many arrests, if any, were made as a result of the testing.
“Ensuring that law enforcement has the appropriate tools to properly process sexual assault kits in a timely manner is important in helping solve crimes in Florida,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said. “Victims deserve our support, and they should know that under my administration justice will prevail.”
To see the entire list of Florida law enforcement agencies that submitted kits to be tested, click here.
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