Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said on Thursday that there is new momentum growing that could have the state’s backlog of more than 13,000 untested rape kits cleared out within 3 years by outsourcing much of the work to private crime labs – an idea a key state senator said he philosophically opposed just a day earlier.
Bondi told a crowd at an event sponsored by the Florida Chamber of Commerce on Thursday that she spoke with State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissionerRichard Swearingen on Thursday and there is now agreement to outsource the older kits rather than trying to rely entirely on FDLE’s already swamped crime labs to handle the additional work load. Without outsourcing, FDLE officials told Negron on Wednesday that it would take more than 8 years and $32 million to handle the state’s share of the backlog.
Negron had opposed outsourcing the kits because he said analyzing sexual assault kits should be part of FDLE’s core mission. He pushed FDLE to come up with a plan to test the kits in house, and outsource less important cases. Negron is the chairman of a Senate budget committee that has oversight of FDLE.
Bondi told about 225 people at a Chamber of Commerce's Capitol Days lunch on the Florida Staet University campus that she had just spoken to Negron before taking the stage and there is now agreement to outsource the kits to assure they are processed as soon as possible.
“In three years we should have that entire backlog taken care of,” Bondi said. “It sounds like a long time, but plan B is 8 years.”
Negron, in a later interview, said he still believes processing all rape kits should be part of the FDLE’s primary mission, but is willing to give on the issue in order to get the kits analyzed quicker.
“I’m open to it if that is the only way they can do it in a timely manner,” Negron said.
FDLE estimates it will cost $8.1 million if Florida outsources the older kits. Negron has said regardless of the cost, he is dedicated to making sure the state budget includes funding to clear the backlog. He said no issue is more important for his committee to address.
FDLE released a report earlier this month that for the first time tried to catalog how many unprocessed rape kits are sitting in law enforcement evidence rooms around the state. The report said there are many reasons kits never get submitted for testing, including a victim no longer wanting to press on with a case or prosecutors already securing a guilty plea in a case. But advocacy groups have made a nationwide push to test older kits that can uncover DNA that can be used to solve cold cases and help identify serial rapists. In other states like Michigan and Tennessee, untested kits have solved other crimes and led to dozens of convictions.
“If we can take one monster off the street, it’s worth every penny that we spent,” Bondi said.