Today Mayor Tim Keller along with the Albuquerque Police Department, and representatives from the Albuquerque Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners Collaborative and the Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico provided an update on the rape kit backlog and the next steps in the process for survivors.
When Mayor Keller was State Auditor, his team conducted the first statewide audit of the backlog, and found there were thousands of untested rape kits, over 5,400, on the shelves in evidence storage. 75% of the untested kits were from Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. In total, 4,742 kits were sent out for testing and in April 2020, the last of the rape kits were sent out for testing, ending the decades-long backlog. However, the work is not done.
“When we came into office, the nominal progress on the rape kit backlog was unacceptable while survivors were waiting for answers,” said Mayor Tim Keller. “We stopped accepting excuses and set out to clear the backlog once and for all. First, we made that choice to honor each of the survivors. Secondly, perpetrators of sexual assault should be behind bars, not on our streets. This is a matter of public safety, and it’s a matter of priorities.”
Some of the untested kits dated back to the 1980s and in January 2018, Mayor Keller signed an executive order which led to APD creating a plan to clear the backlog to include funding and working with advocates to provide support to survivors at each step. Today, every last kit submitted for testing has been returned to the crime lab and the police department along with the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office move forward with investigating these cases and seeking prosecution.
Of the reviewed cases, 3,152 DNA profiles were generated and 1,318 of these were determined by the laboratory to be CODIS eligible and subsequently entered into the CODIS database. As of today, there have been 518 CODIS hits, accounting for 47% of the profiles entered within the scope of this project. These hits have been verified through agency and FBI standards and the results passed on to our detectives in the APD Sex Crimes Unit and BCSO Special Victims Unit.
“The DNA Unit has increased its number of personnel, introduced robotics, and has more technology coming online this fall that will assist in increasing productivity,” said Kristie Stone, the Scientific Evidence Division Manager. “Forensic scientists have worked diligently to complete the backlog project in 3 and a half years while also keeping up with incoming kits to prevent another backlog and give investigators information they need to support the citizens of Albuquerque.”
Investigators in APD’s Sex Crimes Unit are now at the forefront of the backlog. They are tasked with trying to locate the victims and offenders. Investigators work closely with the District Attorney’s office and advocates that handle victim outreach. Once contact is made, there are three possible outcomes; willingness to move forward with prosecution, denial, or full refusal to participate. Investigators and advocates have experienced all three scenarios, and for various reasons.
If victims are willing to move forward, case preparation begins and cases are assigned to a detective. This process is coordinated with the District Attorney’s Office to help identify serial offenders, or offenders linked to additional cases.
“When survivors of sexual assault make the decision to seek help, and submit a rape kit, it is our obligation to do everything we can to assist them through that process, and get them the justice they deserve,” said Chief of Police Harold Medina. “We are moving forward from how things were done in the past, and we have put the appropriate procedures in place so to never see a backlog like this again.”
Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview is a method providing a trauma based interviewing skill and understanding to investigators of serious crimes. APD Sex Crimes detectives took this training to learn how to conduct trauma informed interviews in 2020.
The City of Albuquerque and APD also work closely with the Albuquerque SANE Collaborative. The Albuquerque Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners created a victim-centered protocol, providing notification to survivors on the status of their backlogged rape kit.
“I have known about the backlog of untested sexual assault evidence kits since before 2008 and my concerns fell on deaf ears until I got through to Tim Keller when he was State Auditor,” said Connie Monahan, the Executive Director of the Albuquerque SANE Collaborative. “I am grateful for his focus and for making the rape kits a priority as our Mayor. This project has been a perfect example of how coordination should happen – City government working with non-profits, law enforcement coordinating with advocacy, and the science of the Crime Lab matched with the heart of our SANE nurses. For many victims, the testing of their rape kit did not help the outcome. I feel regret for those individuals but I also feel affirmed that at least, they know. The time they gave to the SANE exam and to the investigation was validated. They were believed. And I trust that it will be better for the next victim who comes forward.”
SANE and the Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico are also a part of the Albuquerque Sexual Assault Evidence Kit Response Team (ASERT), a multidisciplinary team that meets quarterly to assess the progress of processing the backlogged kits. The monthly meetings were designed to provide a safety net to ensure victim’s cases do not fall through the cracks.
“I am so filled with gratitude for the commitment to Survivors that has been announced today,” said Jodie Jaramillo, Director of Crisis Services for the Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico. “Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to survivors of sexual violence: You matter. What happened to you matters. Your case matters. Now more than ever we need to continue to stand vigilantly with Survivors and do everything in our power to continue to guarantee them justice, equality, and all the civil rights that belong to the people of New Mexico.”