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Many States Are Adopting Rape-Kit Tracking Systems

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Across the country, lawmakers started to consider ways to address the problem. In 2015,  Wayne County, Michigan, formed a coalition to brainstorm how to best address 11,000 untested sexual-assault kits discovered in a Detroit storage locker six years earlier. This coalition, lead by the prosecutor Kym Worthy, eventually lead Wayne County to pilot one of the first tracking systems. STACS DNA, a software company Michigan already employed to track DNA evidence in its crime labs, partnered with the state to develop the software Track-Kit, which is now used in at least nine Michigan counties (and in the summer will go live in the entire state), as well as in Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and Washington.

Captain Monica Alexander of the Washington State Patrol told me that every jurisdiction in Washington now uses Track-Kit, and said it’s going “really well.” She pointed out the importance of the system’s simple design. “You have very young rape victims, you have very old rape victims,” she said. “They wanted to make sure that anyone from any age group could use this.” She explained that if she called her IT department “right now,” someone could tell her the exact number of kits uploaded on any given day. Washington’s goal is to also upload all backlogged kits into the system—which right now number more than 4,000.

While some states buy software from private companies, Idaho built its system in-house. In 2015, the Idaho State Police put together a working group similar to the one formed in Michigan, including defense attorneys, prosecutors, sexual-assault-prevention advocates, medical professionals and law-enforcement officials. Wintrow met with this working group, and her legislation emerged out of their discussions. Matthew Gamette, the laboratory-system director of the Idaho State Police’s  forensics service, then built the system with the help of department programmers. Gamette walked me through how to use the system; the software is simple in design and easy to navigate.

Now that the system is up and running, Gamette has offered to share it with any state that’s interested, free of charge. Many have taken him up on the offer: Since the system’s creation, Idaho has received inquiries about it from 25 states and three major cities. Some, including Utah and Arkansas, have then modeled their system on Idaho’s. Gamette has spent the past year working with other cities and states. When I spoke with him, he had just traveled to Puerto Rico to help establish a tracking system on the island. He explained that while he’ll give his system to anyone for free, he understands that some jurisdictions, especially the more populous ones, prefer using outside companies that have more resources, such as round-the-clock technical support.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy speaks in 2013. Worthy helped create a tracking-system pilot program. (Al Goldis / AP)

While most tracking systems have been created through new laws, some have been created through regulation by law-enforcement agencies. New Hampshire, for example, received funding in January to establish a tracking system, but doesn’t have a law on the books. Knecht from Joyful Heart told me that while she views any tracking system as progress, she prefers that states create the systems with legislation to ensure that participation is mandatory.

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