Key legislator says 6- to 8-year FDLE estimate to test rape kits "unacceptable"
A key state legislator chastised the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Wednesday for giving him a report that suggests it could take six to eight years to catch up with a newly identified backlog of 13,000 untested rape kits statewide.
State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said the agency's estimates are unacceptable, lack creativity and have a "bureaucratic ring" to them. Negron said that given the issue is of utmost importance to Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and the Legislature, the agency needs to be more aggressive.
"It sounds like FDLE doesn't really want to do this," Negron told FDLE Assistant Commissioner Jennifer C. Pritt after she said six to eight years was the best the agency could do.
Pritt defended the report, saying the agency is struggling to retain employees and hire staff for its crime lab. Pritt said the agency has a 24 percent vacancy rate they cannot fill because their pay isn't competitive.
Pritt said FDLE has requested almost $4 million extra from the Legislature this year to pay its crime lab analysts more and help fill vacancies.
"If we get to full staff, then these (rape kit) numbers will change," Pritt said.
Even if the state were to have a hiring surge, Pritt warned it can take 18 to 20 months to fully train a crime lab analyst.
The exchange Wednesday came during a committee hearing before the Senate Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, which Negron chairs.
"At the very top of our priority list is making sure sexual assault kits are tested in a timely and reliable manner," Negron said. "Nothing we are going to do in this committee is more important than that."