Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

State crime labs overwhelmed with more than 10,000 untested rape kits

TALLAHASSEE — The number of untested rape kits sitting in law enforcement evidence rooms in Florida is far worse than authorities had believed.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Tuesday confirmed for the first time there are more than 10,000 untested kits throughout the state — and they're not done counting. In December, FDLE will make public the full number as part of a $300,000 survey to identify just how big the backlog is. Up until now, the problem was only estimated as being in the "thousands."

"This actual number could change after the survey results are final," FDLE Assistant Commissioner Jennifer C. Pritt told a Florida Senate subcommittee with budget authority over FDLE.

Evidence buried in those untested kits could not only impact potentially thousands of unsolved sexual assaults but also could help solve other crimes in unrelated cases with the same suspects' DNA or uncover serial rapists.

Yet, even if all of the untested kits were sent to the state for testing, FDLE's crime lab system is so overloaded it could not process those kits in any timely fashion without millions of dollars for extra workers or to pay to outsource the work, agency officials said.

Not included in the new report are 1,500 rape kits that have been submitted to FDLE by local law enforcement agencies for processing since January for older sexual assault cases amid growing media attention over untested kits. About one-third of those cases have been processed; the rest are being earmarked for outsourcing to private labs at a cost of $904 per kit, Pritt said.

Why kits stay on shelves for years — even decades — is still being analyzed. But Pritt said some legitimate reasons could have included victims no longer wanting an investigation to continue, a case is not being pursued by prosecutors or a suspect has already pled guilty.

A big reason is simply due to technology.

"There are many of these kits that may be sitting on shelves that existed prior to even DNA analysis," Pritt said of kits that are between five and 25 years old.

Some state officials have been stepping up pressure to test older rape kits to collect DNA samples from as many suspects as they can to be able to compare it to other crimes. In some cases, DNA from one case can identify matches in others criminal cases or identify serial rapists. In September, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi held a news conference in Tampa saying the DNA from older sexual assault kits has the potential to solve cold cases and lock up more sexual predators.

The state does not require all rape kits collected by local law enforcement to be tested. Which kits are sent to the state crime lab is entirely the authority of local law enforcement agencies.

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell testified before the Senate committee that all kits need to be tested, even if a victim is not seeking prosecution for whatever reason. She said the DNA is too valuable to help identify other crimes.

"If there is an active rapist in your community, we want to know about it," she said, adding that a victim's identity could still be protected.

But testing all of those older kits could come at a substantial cost to the state. If all of the older kits were outsourced for testing at $900 per kit, as it costs now, it would total $9 million according to rough estimates Pritt gave the committee.

The crime lab system cannot handle processing all of the older kits as well as keeping up with its current workload. For the last six years, the lab has been besieged by frequent employee turnover, and increasing workloads. FDLE has been struggling to process 2,400 requests per year for current sexual assault kits. Last year, FDLE had to outsource 450 kits, said David Coffman, the agency's director of forensic services.

Coffman said if there is a bigger surge of older kits that need to be analyzed, the agency would not be able to handle the increase without outsourcing or adding staff.

It takes 88 days on average for FDLE to process all biology and DNA requests, according to the agency's annual performance report provided Gov. Rick Scott and the state's elected cabinet. That's up from an 81-day average last year.

Pritt said the FDLE can handle up to 3,500 requests per year, but only if it can get pay raises to retain its current work force, get a yet to be disclosed amount processing the older kits, and have funding for upkeep on its equipment.

The number of untested kits was definitely a surprise to state Sen. Joe Negron, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. Negron said he wasn't expecting it to be over 10,000.

"I'm committed to making sure every kit needed to be tested is done so in a prompt manner," Negron said after the hearing.

But Negron bristled at Pritt during the meeting for suggesting the agency may have to outsource testing on the older kits.

He said the crime lab is one of the most essential functions of the FDLE and should be handled by the agency. He would rather increase funding to beef up the crime lab and attack the backlog instead of outsourcing something so important.

Contact Jeremy Wallace at or (850) 224-7263. Follow @jeremyswallace.

State crime labs overwhelmed with more than 10,000 untested rape kits 11/03/15 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 3, 2015 10:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trump reveals that he didn't record Comey after all


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Thursday he never made and doesn't have recordings of his private conversations with ousted former FBI director James Comey, ending a monthlong guessing game that he started with a cryptic tweet and that ensnared his administration in yet more controversy.

    President Donald Trump said Thursday that he didn’t record his conversations with James Comey.
  2. Lightning fans, don't get attached to your first-round draft picks

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — When Lightning GM Steve Yzerman announces his first-round pick Friday night in the amateur draft at No. 14, he'll invite the prospect onto the stage for the once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) eludes  Montreal Canadiens left wing Phillip Danault (24) during the second period of Wednesday???‚??„?s (12/28/16) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Montreal Canadiens at the Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  3. Investigation Discovery TV show profiles 2011 Landy Martinez murder case


    The murder of a St. Petersburg man will be featured this week on a new true crime series Murder Calls on Investigation Discovery.

    Jose Adame sits in a Pinellas County courtroom during his 2016 trial and conviction for first-degree murder. Adame was convicted of first-degree murder last year for torturing and then executing his boyfriend as he pleaded for his life in 2011. Now it will be featured in a new true crime series Murder Calls on Investigation Discovery. The episode will air on June 26 at 9 p.m. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  4. Uhuru mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel protests exclusion from debate


    ST. PETERSBURG — Jesse Nevel, the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement candidate for mayor, on Thursday demanded that he be allowed to participate in a July 25 televised debate between incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and challenger Rick Baker.

    Mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel holds a news conference outside the headquarters of the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday to protest his exclusion from the mayoral debate. Nevel is a member of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement.
  5. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman also has top-9 wing on his wish list

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — Much has been made about the Lightning's interest in bolstering its blue line, even after last week's acquisition of defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev.

    Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman gestures as he speaks to the media about recent trades during a news conference before an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning, over the past few days, have traded goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings, forward Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and forward Valtteri Filppula to the Philadelphia Flyers. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA101