Greenville Police receive federal grant to test sexual assault kits

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GREENVILLE, NC (WITN) A grant from the U.S. Department of Justice may help victims of sexual assault in Greenville get the outcome they deserve.

The Greenville Police Department is one of only 19 agencies in the country to receive the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grant.

The nearly $220,000 grant will, in part, fund testing of 312 sexual assault kits that have been housed in property and evidence storage and have never been submitted for testing. The kits date back to the early 1990s.

Due to the parameters set by the State of North Carolina Crime Lab, not all sexual assault evidence collection kits are eligible for automatic testing. Some examples include cases where the suspect is known to the victim or those cases in which the victim might decline to prosecute the case and additional evidence is not present to allow law enforcement to move forward.

Greenville Police Chief Mark Holtzman says, “Every single one of the untested kits represents an individual who not only suffered a traumatic assault, but then had to go through the physically invasive process of having DNA evidence collected after the assault. There’s no reason for a victim to have to endure this, only to have the one piece of evidence that can identify their attacker sit on a shelf. If tested, these kits can identify offenders and create the potential to connect evidence from more than one case to identify serial rapists. Like so many departments across the country, the Greenville Police Department was working off dated practices and procedures with respect to testing sexual assault kits for prosecution. Moving forward, in an effort to bring justice to victims and identify and prevent repeat or serial offenders from striking again, our commitment to victims of sexual assault and to the community will be to test 100 percent of the sexual assault kits that come into our department."

The SAKI grant will allow the Greenville Police Department to hire a part-time coordinator who will be responsible for submitting all of the untested kits to a private forensics laboratory in Pennsylvania (NMS Labs, Willow Grove, PA), or to the State Crime Lab as applicable.

Use of a private lab will allow for examination of cases that might not have previously met the State Crime Lab requirements, to conduct research on outcomes in sexual assault cases, and increase collection of DNA that may lead to identification of serial sex offenders living within the community.

In addition to the part-time position, the grant will provide overtime for sworn Greenville Police Department personnel who might be required to follow up on cases once the biological evidence is tested. It also allows for equipment purchases, training, travel, supplies, and contracted services.

Testing for sexual assault kits will be covered for three years under the grant. In the last six years, the Greenville Police Department collected an average of 25 sexual assault kits per year. Of the 312 existing kits, 178 will be sent to the NC SBI Crime Lab and 134 will be sent to the private lab. After all the existing kits are tested, it’s estimated that approximately 10-12 kits will need to be sent to a private lab every year, at a cost of approximately $10,000 annually after the expiration of the grant.