Missouri AG and Springfield Police to provide update on SAFE Kit Initiative

National

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.- Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt held a briefing in Springfield Thursday to discuss the SAFE Kit Initiative with the Springfield Police Department. 

The groups announced the Springfield Police Department has officially sent off all of its untested rape kits to a lab for testing.  

This means there are currently zero untested kits in the department. In 2019, the department discovered its property room had a backlog of 231 untested kits. 

That same year, Schmitt launched the SAFE Kit Initiative to clear the backlog of untested sexual assault kits in Missouri. Since then, Schmitt’s office has completed a comprehensive inventory and held a multitude of shipping events to get untested sexual assault kits to the private lab to be tested. 

On Thursday, Schmitt announced the following findings from a total of 2,101 kits that have now been tested across the state under the SAFE Kit Initiative. 

  • Of the 2,101 kits tested, 963 have returned with DNA results.  
  • Of those 963, 352 were able to be ran through the law enforcement data base, CODIS. 
  • When ran through CODIS, 155 were linked to a prior-offender. 
  • Of those 155, the Attorney General’s Office has made 35 criminal referrals to local investigators and prosecutors. 
  • Of those 35 referrals, 11 were sent to the Springfield Police Department.  

Chief Paul Williams says so far, six of those referrals are currently under investigation. 

Williams said on Thursday the Department will be “working with the victims on all of those hits to notify them and follow their wishes on what they wish to do as far as moving forward.” 

Attorney General Eric Schmitt added: 

The numbers don’t tell the story of the victims. The human beings whose lives will forever be changed and marred by the violence and senseless acts they’ve suffered. Those victims’ nightmares are not over. Their past will not be erased, their damage can’t be undone. Yet still, we do this for them – the victims, so at least we can seek answers and pursue justice…those answers are at the heart of the numbers here and drive what we do every single day with this initiative.

AG Eric Schmitt

Schmitt says the initiative has been funded by several grants, totaling more than $4 million.  

During this year’s legislative session, Missouri lawmakers approved another $2.6 million.  

To clear the backlog in Springfield, Chief Williams says Springfield City Council allocated another $120,000, resulting in the remaining 119 untested kits in Springfield to be sent off for testing. 

In 2018, a CNN article came out about the destruction of rape kits.

“The information that was reported is ancient history, in some cases more than a decade old, and it is not indicative of what we do today,” Williams told OzarksFirst in 2018. “In our first meeting with the reporter, I addressed that. I said, ‘Here’s what happened in the past. And I can’t go fix that. But I am absolutely acknowledging that things were not done how best practices now would say to do them.”

And while he knows ‘this happened years ago isn’t at all an excuse for the department’s past behavior, he follows that admission with a promise to victims that the department has been improving for years– though he says CNN overlooked that progress.

“I was pretty disappointed in the fact that they pretty much stopped the reporting after 2012. Since 2014, well in advance of them contacting us. We’d said, ‘We’re not going to destroy any of them anymore,” he said.

Since 2018, Williams has made a public effort to have SPD become more “victim-centered.” Currently, there is a Victim Resources tab on the SPD website.

In 2019 OzarksFirst talked with SPD about the process for rape or sexual assault cases.

“A person that’s been sexually assaulted, let’s say they’ve been raped, they call 911 and the officer comes to the house,” Wilson said. “The officer will ask the very basic questions of what happened, and then it’s up to the victim. It’s always up to the victim.”

In this case, the officer would then take the victim to the hospital to receive a safe kit exam by a nurse.

“The next step, normally, in this case, we’re keeping it simple, it’ll be assigned to a detective,” Wilson said. That could be as quick as the next day.

The detective will then ask the victim more questions about the assault and start an investigation by asking questions like, ‘what happened?’ and if the victim knew their assailant to help determine a suspect. Officers will continue investigating, and if there’s probable cause, then the police will find and arrest the suspect. SPD will then file and present charges to the prosecutor.

“Prosecutor will look at that, decide whether to file or not and then we wait for the court process,” Wilson said.

But, cases only make it this far if the victim wants to continue the process.

“From the beginning to the end, it could stretch over a year,” Wilson said. “On the investigative side, they can sometimes be very difficult, and on the victims’ side, they’re terribly difficult because we basically – we almost have to make a victim relive it twice. Sometimes the victim decides that they want to stop, and I don’t blame them in many ways because it’s a difficult process. We never blame a victim that made a report and decided, ‘I can’t go through this any-can’t go forward anymore,’ because it’s just too hard. It’s very hard.”

Detectives say three things may slow down the investigation:

  • The victim decides to stop the process
  • Lack of evidence
  • The time between when the assault occurred and when the victim reports it

“Sometimes, the time that goes by between the occurrence and when they report it, that can make a case more difficult,” Wilson said. “Lack of evidence that we have and sometimes, it’s a ‘he said she said. We come across those. We don’t want to hold back. Those are difficult.”

Wilson says the victim is SPD’s number one priority.

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