The word rape strikes terror in the hearts of women who are most often the targets of a rapist. Rape, often called sexual assault, is one of the vilest crimes that can be committed. It’s a crime I found in my career that can be uglier than a murder and often more difficult to investigate and solve.
While killers most often kill once, rapists often attack repeatedly until imprisoned. Most killers get out of prison and move on with their lives, while rapists often get out of prison and start raping again.
In the hundreds of cases I investigated as a sex crimes detective, I can say I never met a rapist who’d only raped one woman one time.
And that brings me to this week’s ABC15 News investigative series by Dave Biscobing, Investigation uncovers thousands of sexual assault kits left untested by Valley law enforcement. Biscobing found that thousands of sexual assault kits, the kits that contain evidence taken from victims during a medical exam after an attack, had yet to be sent to the crime lab for analysis and DNA testing. DNA is often the key piece of evidence that identifies and links an attacker to a specific crime and possibly others through the national Combined DNA Index System, CODIS.
CODIS is only as good as the data in its system. The collection of evidence by police and analysis by the crime lab are key ingredients in identifying, arresting and prosecuting rapists.
The ABC15 investigation shocked me as a retired detective, husband and father of two daughters.
Hillary Peele, a 2004 sexual assault victim-turned-advocate, told Biscobing that Tempe police didn’t send the sexual assault kit in her case to the lab for analysis for eight months. She reportedly had to call Tempe police repeatedly to get the kit examined. When it finally was, the DNA left behind by her attacker was linked to another rape.
It’s not the job of the victim to prompt police to do their job. Peele said, “It’s difficult enough as a rape victim to come forward. To not have that, the kit, tested is just horrific.”
Sarah Tofte, an advocate with the Joyful Heart Foundation who studies the handling of rape evidence by police, told Biscobing, “I think you’re looking at a jurisdiction that’s not responding effectively to sexual assault,” referring to how things are being done here.
According to the report, Tempe, the city with the highest serious crime rate in the East Valley and one that, according to the FBI, is significantly higher than the crime rate in Phoenix, has 363 untested sexual assault kits. Chandler has 48 and Gilbert has 80. Mesa and the Maricopa and Pinal County sheriffs’ offices test all kits.
Tempe’s police chief and city manager didn’t respond to questions regarding Tempe’s number of untested sexual assault kits.
ABC15 reported in “New York City, police cleared their backlog of untested sexual assault kits and now test every kit that’s collected. Their arrest rate jumped from 40 percent to 70 percent. In Los Angeles County, officials finished testing a backlog of more than 6,000 kits last year. The new DNA led to more than 245 arrests.” Nationally and statewide, the solve rate is 25 percent.
Valley-wide, there are 2,996 untested kits. Phoenix police have over 1,500 untested kits. No telling how many rapists would be thrown in prison were these untested kits examined.
Even with the well-known inadequacies of the Arizona Department of Public Safety crime lab, nothing precludes police from submitting the kits for examination to DPS, a private crime lab or entering into a contract with the Mesa police crime lab like Gilbert has in order to provide better service to its residents.
Biscobing and ABC15 have exposed a huge gap in policing, especially in Phoenix and Tempe.
The failure to aggressively pursue all opportunities to arrest a rapist is a sad commentary.
Incomplete police work only grows crime.
Photo: Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.