By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Department of Justice is setting up a tracking system to trace the status of sexual assault evidence kits in effort to ensure they’re processed quickly, Attorney General Josh Kaul announced on Wednesday.
The system will be funded with a $327,000 federal grant. It will monitor how long each kit spends at different points in the processing system, including hospitals, police departments and the state crime lab. Victims will be able to directly access information about their kits. Kaul said the DOJ hopes to have the system up and running by the end of the year.
The state Senate passed a bill in March that would require the DOJ to create a database for victims to track their kits’ status. The bill hasn’t had a hearing in the Assembly yet. A similar bill died in that chamber last year.
The bill would require police and health care workers to enter information into the system. Kaul said he’s pressing forward with the tracking system regardless of whether the bill passes. If he doesn’t get a mandate, he’ll ask police and health workers to enter the information voluntarily, he said.
Kaul also announced that the DOJ is working with police to count all sexual assault kits that have come into their possession since the beginning of 2016. Nearly 175 out of 557 law enforcement agencies began the count in March.
The state DOJ received a grant in 2015 to identify and collect all kits in the possession of police departments and hospitals prior to 2016.
Taken together, the two surveys will provide the DOJ with a list of every kit collected in Wisconsin since the 1980s.
Tens of thousands of sexual assault evidence kits in the U.S. have gone untested: Sometimes prosecutors decide cases are too weak to pursue, or victims refuse to cooperate.
Advocates for sexual assault victims have been pushing for years to get the kits tested in hopes of identifying serial offenders. Kaul’s predecessor, Republican Brad Schimel, started testing about 4,500 Wisconsin kits in 2017.
Kaul hammered Schimel during the campaign for dragging his feet on the testing. The issue gained traction and helped Kaul win office. Kaul’s administration completed testing the roughly 4,500 kits in November 2019.
As of April 7, foreign DNA detected in 1,087 kits has been added to a national database. The testing has resulted in 15 criminal cases being brought, including seven that were still active as of Tuesday.