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Editorial: Review rape evidence

The Detroit News -
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Detroit, MI

Detroit Police chief properly accedes to request for outside validation of stored sex crime materials

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has expressed concern over the Detroit Police Department's handling of stored evidence in sex crime cases. Detroit Chief Warren Evans is denying that any evidence is tainted, but is not opposed to an outside review or validation of the evidence. The chief is taking the right stance.

The chief received a letter from the prosecutor earlier this month worrying about the storage and handling of the sex crime evidence, known as rape kits, in a Police Department property room. Worthy asked for an independent review by an outside agency.

Her worries were expressed in the context of problems with the Detroit crime lab, which was closed by the Detroit Police last year after a 10 percent error rate was disclosed in its gun cases. The lab also had issues with other kinds of evidence.

The State Police has since been handling forensic evidence from Detroit.

The crime lab problems occurred well before Warren Evans became chief in July.

At issue are some 10,000 of the rape kits.

Evans' spokesman John Roach said the department didn't want to immediately call in an outside party until it determined for itself the nature and scope of any possible problem.

It has since determined through what Roach called a spot check of a selected number of rape kits that they had either been properly analyzed or that the DNA evidence contained within them had not been needed because a suspect's identity was not at issue in a case.

Roach added that while 10,000 or so rape kits are stored by the police, some of them go back many years. State law requires that police maintain biological evidence for a number of years, he said.

Worthy has asked for an outside agency to conduct an independent analysis, however, to add greater credibility to any finding that the sex crime evidence has been properly stored and analyzed.

If a third party such as the State Police or a federal agency validates the evidence, it makes it that much stronger in any court proceeding.

The prosecutor is right to want to bring the strongest evidence possible to court.

And Evans' spokesman said Wednesday the chief is not opposed to an outside review or validation.

Evans' lack of defensiveness is refreshing.

Rape is a heinous crime. Last year, the department reported 330 incidents of forcible rape to the FBI's uniform crime report. Cases of rape ought to be thoroughly investigated and vigorously prosecuted.

An outside review should put the issue to rest so both police and prosecutors can pursue sex crime offenders with confidence.

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