Washington working through rape kit backlog but has several thousand to go

FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- Authorities say DNA evidence led to the arrest of the so-called Golden State Killer this week, who is believed to have raped 51 women over several years.

But what about DNA that is in the hands of investigators right now, just waiting to be processed? The state of Washington has a huge backlog of untested rape kits that hold evidence that could point to the attackers.

It's something law enforcement is working to solve. Q13 News reporter Simone Del Rosario questioned Capt. Monica Alexander of Washington State Patrol about the process.

Q: How did this backlog happen in the first place?

A: People were not submitting kits once upon a time, if they didn't have a suspect, there were different reasons why kits were not submitted. And then when the law was passed that every kit had to be tested, that's when we realized there's a lot of kits out there and there's a lot more kits than there are people to process those kits.

Q: What are we looking at backlog wise? How many kits do we think are out there?

A: We're looking at anywhere between 7,000 and maybe as high as 10,000 kits now.

Q: What's been the result of testing some of these kits? What have we found out?

A: We've had 121 matches since they've been uploaded into CODIS and we've had 345 uploaded into CODIS. What that tells us is that's good information we can pass back to law enforcement agencies that submit those kits and now they can start trying to put that together with the case work that they're doing.

Q: So what's going to take priority: Is it the new rape test kit that comes in or some of the backlog?

A: You can state that there's a rush and we have to evaluate that on a case-by-case basis, so that's the responsibility of laboratory managers to prioritize those cases depending on what the law enforcement agency shares with us.

Q: When would we be able to erase this backlog and address just the kits coming in?

A: With what we have right now it would take probably two and a half to five years to clear out all the backlog. When you put the new cases on top of that, I really don't have an answer for that because we never know day by day how many cases we're going to get in.

Q: For a victim, what does this do for peace of mind?

A: When the police go out and arrest them and they're prosecuted for their crime, it changes people's lives. It absolutely changes these people's lives. And I think we keep that in our mind and it's frustrating when we have this DNA but we just don't have enough people to process it or a large enough lab to process it, but I believe very strongly with the way that technology is moving so quickly forward, this isn't going to be a problem for long.