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Tests on backlogged rape kits in Salt Lake City identify more than 100 suspects

Posted at 6:45 PM, May 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-08 08:05:52-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- More than a hundred sexual assault suspects are now on law enforcement radar after the Salt Lake City Police Department finished testing hundreds of backlogged rape kits.

Salt Lake City Police Chief, Mike Brown, presented the findings to the Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday.

"We learned how we can do this better," Brown said.

What a difference five years makes.

"I’ll never forget the tension in the room," Salt Lake City Councilwoman, Erin Mendenhall said.

Mendenhall, who represents District 5, is referring to a city council meeting in April 2014, where councilman Kyle Lamalfa, demanded to know why there were hundreds of rape kits sitting in evidence rooms unprocessed.

"It’s absolutely mind numbing how this could come into being," Lamalfa told Fox13 in 2014.

Five years later, each of the 768 rape kits in the backlog has been tested. Of the 768 tests, 301 found usable DNA evidence. A suspect was identified in 105 of those cases and in 42 of those identifications, it was a suspect police had not been aware of before.

"It's a major cultural shift for Salt Lake City Police Department," Mendenhall said.

The progress is the result of a city council ordinance stemming from that heated meeting in 2014, demanding that all rape kits be tested for DNA.

"We didn’t fall short because of ill intent," Brown said. "We fell short because it's really all we knew."

Thanks to funding provided by the city council, the department has sought out national experts and developed a new policy which they say is victim centered and trauma informed.

"If you’ve been sexually assaulted, we are going to give you the best investigation from the very minute an officer shows up on your front door step to the time we take it to screen and hopefully prosecution," Brown said.

The department is also making another promise to victims, that what happened five years ago, will never happen again. 

"Sometimes those cases take a while to process through but we are able to prioritize those that involve youth or juveniles or those that are a public safety risk so no we will never get behind again," Brown said.

In 2017, the state legislature followed Salt Lake City's lead, creating a mandate that requires all law enforcement agencies in the state to test rape kits for usable DNA evidence.