Fort Worth hopes to win grant to help overcome rape kit backlog



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Posted on July 16, 2013 at 5:21 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 16 at 5:23 PM

FORT WORTH –– An old dry erase calendar hangs in a back office at the Rape Crisis and Victim Services building in Fort Worth. Each small square has a number written in. 

"Each one of those numbers matches a face," said center Director Deborah Caddy. Each number matches a request for a sexual assault exam kit.  Almost every day has a number.      

"Most days there's something that happens in this county,” says Caddy.  “Someone has been sexually assaulted."

April 14 was the worst day so far this year.

"Seven. Seven in one day," says Caddy.  

She says numbers are up sharply from last year. And the Fort Worth police crime lab already holds a backlog of 1,080 rape kits that include evidence collected from September 1996 to December 2011 but have never been examined for DNA.      

Police are seeking private money to do it. Natasha’s Project For Justice is offering a $630,000 grant. It’s a foundation devoted to clearing the rape kit backlog nationwide.     

On Tuesday, the Fort Worth City Council gave police approval to use grant funds to solve the problem, if the department wins the grant.

"Our goal is to close as many of these investigations as we can," says Chief Jeffrey Halstead.   

Cities across the country have backlogs of untested rape kits because local governments don’t have funds or lab capacity to process so much DNA evidence.

"The challenge is the volume of these kits stored,” says Halstead. “And the demands on all the other private labs that provide these services." 

"We need to hurry,” said Caddy. “The victims deserve justice, and the perpetrators are committing these crimes over and over again." 

Halstead says he hopes to have an answer on the grant request within two months.

In 2011, State Sen. Wendy Davis (D – Fort Worth) passed a bill that ordered police departments to audit their rape kit backlog. The statewide audit found an estimated 20,000 rape kits sitting in evidence rooms waiting to be processed. 

Texas lawmakers recently appropriated more than $10 million for the task.  

Some experts say that’s enough to cover about half the kits that need to be tested.