The state Division of Criminal Justice Services issued a report Wednesday that counted at least 1,622 rape kits across the state that had not yet been sent to a lab for testing.
March 2, 2017
"DCJS will contact agencies and offices that did not provide information for this report, reiterate the importance of reporting to the state and work with those agencies and officers to facilitate reporting of their data," the report reads.
Confusion surrounding the deadline may be to blame for the low participation.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers approved a law last year requiring the timely testing of rape kits, which contain physical evidence collected from the body and clothing of a victim in a possible sexual assault.
The law came in response to a state- and nationwide backlog of untested kits, with USA TODAY tallying at least 70,000 nationwide in 2015.
But when Cuomo signed the bill in November, he and lawmakers also agreed to a series of tweaks, including one requiring police agencies to submit their total number of untested kits to the state. Those amendments weren't approved until early February.Ore. bill mandates testing of rape kit backlog
Now, the state division keeping track of the total is giving police and prosecutors until March 31 to report their total, with an addendum to its report to follow.
Peter Kehoe, executive director of the state Sheriffs Association, said he's "confident" that most if not all sheriffs offices will meet the new deadline.
"It appears that there was a relatively short time period between the request and the deadline to report, and some agencies just could not get to the paperwork in time, due to other also pressing matters," Kehoe said in an email.
"I believe a number of agencies have filed the report since the Feb. 17 deadline."
Among those that did report their total to the state, the Nassau County Police Department on Long Island had the most untested kits with 344, followed by police on SUNY campuses, which had 183.
The Binghamton City Police Department had the third-highest total: 95. Elmira reported 48, while the city of Ithaca did not report its total to the state, according to the report.
A spokesman for the Yonkers police did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.
The Rochester Police Department, meanwhile, reported that it had completely wiped out its backlog of untested kits, which had been more than 100 in 2015.
Monroe County's sheriff and district attorney's offices also reported zero untested kits.
Michael Jones, a Rochester police lieutenant, said the state law cleared up some ambiguity, which allowed the department to more easily submit some kits that had less investigative value to labs for testing.
That helped clear up much of the department's backlog, he said.
"Basically, we prioritized kits based on their investigative status and value, sending some to our county lab and others to the FBI lab," Jones said. "That still left a lot of kits that we had left over that didn't have investigative value, and we didn't want to destroy them or get rid of them."
Jones continued: "So once the state legislation was passed requiring (police) to submit them, we were now able to turn them over."
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, a Queens Democrat who sponsored the rape kit bill last year, said she's "hopeful" police agencies will soon submit their data to the state.
"There are no if, ands or buts about this," she said. "Rape survivors deserve to have these kits tested."
Follow Jon Campbell on Twitter: @JonCampbellGAN