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Crime lab misses goals for processing rape kits, says it will improve with more employees

Crime lab misses goals for processing rape kits, says it will improve with more employees

(Kristin Murphy, KSL, File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's crime lab has not hit benchmarks for processing evidence in new sexual assault cases, but its director says the progress will speed up as new employees finish their training.

In the last year, 11 percent of the kits were analyzed within designated time frames that range from about a month to roughly six months, depending on the urgency of the case. The lab will have more capacity next year when each of its nine new scientists will have finished training, lab Director Jay Henry told the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee on Wednesday.

Of the 373 kits that were analyzed in the last year, the lowest-priority cases had a goal of a 180-day turnaround, but the median time was 595 days.

The kits contain swabs and other evidence collected by forensic nurses that are forwarded to police after analysis. The lab has separated them into first-, second- or third-tier priority, depending on whether the perpetrator poses a public safety risk, a court date is approaching, or they are deemed urgent for another reason.

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A 2018 law established timelines for processing the kits, Henry noted, but the Department of Public Safety received funding for just nine of the 17 new analysts it requested.

"Overall, we're really encouraged by the progress we've made, but we still have a ways to go," Henry said.

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said she will propose the Legislature set aside an extra $1.2 million to help the lab bring on the additional employees next year.

The Department of Public Safety also is working through a backlog of more than 3,000 kits that a 2014 survey revealed were awaiting analysis. The presentation Wednesday reviewed progress of more recent cases.

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