April 26, 2018
FAIRBANKS — The state has hired a sexual-assault cold-case investigator to assist in chipping away at the state's backlog of nearly 3,500 untested rape kits.
Retired Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Michael Burkmire will begin work at Alaska's Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage.
Before retiring as a trooper, Burkmire ran the AST Child Abuse Unit in the Mat-Su Valley.
In his new position, Burkmire will go through the state's extensive backlog of sexual assault evidence kits and investigate previously unsolved cases related to sexual assault and sexual violence.
According to legislation passed in 2017, local law enforcement agencies across the state are required to make a one-time report of their untested sexual assault kits to the Alaska Department of Public Safety. The report showed that 49 Alaska law enforcement agencies have 3,484 untested sexual assault evidence kits.
According to the report, 5 percent of the untested rape kits were from the Fairbanks Police Department and 22 percent from the statewide Alaska State Troopers.
Nearly 60 percent of Alaska women report having experienced sexual violence in their lives, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report.
With Alaska's sexual crime rates three times higher than the national average and child sexual assault rates six times higher, this issue has caught the eye of legislators this year resulting in Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, introducting House Bill 31, which would require law enforcement agencies to report their number of untested rape kits to the state every year.
The bill also would shift the handling of sexual violence related cases to a victim-centered reporting approach and require at least 12 hours of sexual violence training at Alaska police academies.
Tarr said in her sponsor statement that the measure was a logical step toward addressing a statewide epidemic.
"We know that when tested, DNA evidence obtained through testing sexual assault kits can be an incredibly powerful tool to solve and prevent crime," Tarr wrote. "It is time to put public safety for Alaska women and families to the forefront."
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said in a statement that hiring Burkmire will help move Alaska in the right direction. He did not mention HB 31.
"Hiring Sgt. Burkmire and reducing the sexual assault evidence backlog are the latest steps in building a Safer Alaska," Walker said in a statement. "Processing this evidence backlog is vital to ensuring justice for survivors of sexual assault."
As Alaska struggles to retain current law enforcement positions or hire new ones because of dwindling funds, Burkmire's position was secured through a $1.1 million grant from the U.S Department of Justice.
Contact staff writer Erin Granger at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter:@FDNMPolitics.
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