Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine deserves more credit, and less criticism, when it comes to how his office is handling the collection and testing of rape kits.
It was DeWine, after all, who in December 2011 launched a state effort to get so many of the kits from law enforcement agencies, which often had them locked away for years in evidence rooms. The kits are samples collected when a rape is reported and can help identify the rapist through DNA evidence.
DeWine encouraged police to send the kits to the state crime laboratory where they would be tested for free.
Many agencies have responded.
As of July 1, 8,001 kits had been submitted from around the state, and 4,108 have been tested.
That has resulted in 1,474 matches with records in the national DNA database. That means there’s been a hit in 35 percent of kits tested.
But David Pepper, a former Hamilton County commissioner who is running against DeWine in November, doesn’t believe the kits are being tested fast enough and says the backlog of 3,900 cases is unacceptable.
Earlier this week, Pepper suggested DeWine farm out the testing to other labs to speed up the process.
DeWine earlier this year had added 10 additional lab workers at the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation to conduct the tests.
In response to Pepper’s claim, he said he had considered farming out the testing, but that would be too expensive. He also said the state’s lab has developed a specific protocol to test them, and having different labs doing the testing could complicate prosecutions.
Certainly, it would be better to process the rape kits more quickly, if only to obtain more matches and bring rapists to justice faster. It could be argued that, by not doing so, a rapist could continue to commit crimes.
On the other hand, DeWine’s call to do all the testing in-house seems wise.
The BCI lab is testing 300 kits a month, or 3,600 a year, and, at that rate, could eliminate the backlog by this time next year.
Ohio’s efforts to collect kits and solve old rape cases is being noticed elsewhere. Many states don’t operate such a program and few, if any, are as successful in the number of prosecutions of cold cases.
So far, more than 135 people have been indicted, including 37 John Does. While the identities of these defendants are not known, they were indicted to ensure that the state’s 20-year statute of limitations for rape does not expire before they can be brought to justice.
DeWine’s program isn’t perfect, but it’s better than letting rape kits continue to collect dust.
Pepper may be able to find flaws in programs that DeWine has implemented since he’s been in office, but the rape kit testing program isn’t one of them.
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