Secretary of State Dennis Richardson released an audit of the Oregon State Police Forensic Services Division’s Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence (SAFE) Kit backlog. The audit found that the Oregon State Police (OSP) has taken actions consistent with statutory requirements and national best practices to address the SAFE Kit backlog.
In 2015, Oregon had a significant statewide backlog of approximately 4,900 unprocessed SAFE Kits. In 2016, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 1571, referred to as Melissa’s Law, which aimed to prevent future SAFE Kit backlogs by eliminating law enforcement discretion for testing the kits and providing additional resources to the OSP labs. OSP officials report they are on track to eliminate the backlog by the end of 2018.
Melissa’s Law did not provide local law enforcement agencies direction on what to do with kits collected and stored before the law took effect January 1, 2017. To help deal with the pre-Melissa’s Law backlog, Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill arranged for approximately 2,945 kits from multiple local law enforcement agencies to be outsourced to a private lab in Utah. Grant funds were used for this purpose. Other kits are being sent directly to OSP for testing.
“Testing SAFE Kits is critical not only to ensure justice for victims of sexual assault, but to provide assurance to all Oregonians that the state is doing everything possible to investigate and prosecute these crimes,” said Secretary of State Dennis Richardson. “I personally visited three testing facilities across the state to learn how this backlog is being resolved quickly and efficiently.”
The OSP Forensic Services Division operates Oregon’s only full-service forensic lab system. Auditors examined the policies and practices OSP uses to prioritize and process SAFE Kits. The audit findings are outlined in a report entitled: “Forensic Division Has Taken Appropriate Steps to Address Oregon’s Sexual Assault Kit Testing Backlog.”
The audit findings include the following:
· OSP has complied with Melissa’s Law by increasing lab capacity and reporting to legislators on efforts to reduce the SAFE Kit backlog.
· OSP is following best practices outlined by the National Institute of Justice for forensic labs that process SAFE Kits. For example, OSP’s “high-throughput” approach to obtaining DNA profiles from SAFE Kits is recommended for decreasing kit backlogs.
· OSP should publicly post backlog status reports, examine options for a statewide SAFE Kit tracking system, and plan for reintroducing DNA testing in property crimes.
“Victims of sexual assault deserve to have justice as soon as possible,” said Secretary Richardson. “I’m thankful to the Oregon State Police Forensic Services Division for their strong efforts to remove the SAFE Kit backlog by the end of 2018."
Danielle Tudor, a rape survivor and activist who was a driving force behind the enactment of Melissa’s Law, has tracked the testing progress of the SAFE Kit backlog as a member of both the Portland Police Bureau and the Oregon Governor’s task force. When informed about the audit, she had this to say:
“I am very grateful that Secretary Richardson is a man of his word and completed the audit in a timely manner as promised. Not only did he complete the audit of unprocessed SAFE Kits, but he also took the time to visit labs across our state to gain an understanding of how the process of testing a SAFE Kit works.”
Read the full audit on the Secretary of State website.