A statewide audit found almost 7,000 untested rape kits in law enforcement agencies across Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office said 272 law enforcement agencies responded to Gov. Mary Fallin’s audit order.
In April 2017 Fallin signed an executive order creating a 17-member task force to determine the number of untested sexual assault forensic evidence kits, often called rape kits, in more than 350 law enforcement agencies across the state.
After the majority of law enforcement agencies missed Fallin’s original Dec. 30 deadline to complete the audit, she pushed it back to Feb. 15. As of Feb. 23, the state tallied a total of 6,954 untested rape kits, according to data provided by the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office.
The number could be higher, as several departments didn’t submit an audit.
Fallin’s executive order also gave the option for agencies to record the reasons why rape kits weren’t tested. Those options included lack of victim cooperation, the district attorney declined to file charges, the victim declined to pursue charges or the victim did not wish to make a police report.
The Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Taskforce planned to discuss the results of the audit during a special meeting on Thursday, but the meeting was canceled due to inclement weather in the Oklahoma City area. As of Friday, the task force had not yet compiled the data on why agencies did not test kits.
Last month Fallin announced agencies that failed to meet the Feb. 15 deadline would risk losing federal grants administered by state agencies.
“Gathering this information is an important first step in bringing justice to sexual assault survivors whose cases have been delayed for years,” Fallin said in the news release. “Law enforcement agencies need to account for untested kits in their custody so that communities can begin to take steps to hold offenders accountable.”
The Oklahoma City Police Department counted 1,593 untested kits in its custody, a spokeswoman previously told The Frontier.
Sgt. Jillian Phippen, who heads the Tulsa Police Department’s Sex Crime Unit, said the agency recorded just over 3,000 untested kits going back to the early 90s.
The majority of kits were not tested because of a lack of victim cooperation or the case was adjudicated without the kit requiring testing, Phippen said. Some cases were out of the department’s jurisdiction.
“I’m really glad we finished it,” Phippen said of the audit. “It tells a lot of how we’re currently looking at these sexual assault kits. And I think, as with anything, we can do better.”
Phippen, who is a member of Fallin’s task force, said following the audit she made suggestions on how the department can better handle rape kits.
“I think historically even way before I’ve been here, if the victim isn’t cooperating or we never hear from them again, it’s not tested,” she said. “I think we can definitely do better on those.”
For example, Phippen said, TPD could begin to routinely test kits in cases where the alleged attacker is unknown to the victim and the circumstances are alarming. It could lead to catching more serial rapists.
Agencies generally do not test kits if the victim is uncooperative or they believe they know who the alleged offender is. Rape kits are often left to gather dust in evidence rooms or are destroyed.
In recent years, there has been a nationwide effort to determine the number of untested rape kits and test them. Researchers and proponents say testing old kits can help catch serial rapists.
Danielle Tudor, a task force member and rape survivor from Oregon, said the number of untested rape kits in the state did not surprise her.
“I’m glad we got the conversation going, but we have a long way to go,” she said.
Tudor said she’s looking ahead to the state’s next step following the audit. She is working with Rep. Monroe Nichols, a Democrat, this session on legislation that would streamline the process to test kits and require law enforcement agencies to test them.
The task force plans to give recommendations on the bill before it moves forward. The proposed legislation, which is being considered by the House Judiciary committee, would go into effect Sept. 1.
“We have to do something,” Tudor said. “However little that step is, we have to do it. Those are 6,000 lives that were affected by sexual assault who never got their kit tested.
“We can do better without costing a lot of money to test rape kits. Maybe we won’t get all rape kits, but we can do better. We can test more kits, and we need to.”
Though Fallin’s order does not mandate the testing of kits, part of the task force’s duties is to find funding for testing, identify improvements on law enforcement training and analyzing rape kits.
The average cost to test a kit is $1,000 to $1,500.
The task force is supposed to present its findings and recommendations to the governor, president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the House by July 1.
This story was updated Feb. 23 with updated audit data.