Some Lawmakers Want 'Better' FDLE Proposals On How To Take Care Of Rape Kits Backlog

Jan 14, 2016

Assistant Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Jennifer Pritt speaking to lawmakers Wednesday.
Credit Florida Channel

To outsource or not to outsource…That’s the question facing Florida lawmakers this year, as they mull over whether the Florida Department of Law Enforcement should use outside help to take care of the state’s backlog of untested rape kits.

A few months ago, Sen. Joe Negron (R-Stuart) tasked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to come up with a plan of how the agency will handle the estimated thousands of untested kits.

At the time, Assistant FDLE Commissioner Jennifer Pritt had suggested the legislature fund using outside help to assist the crime lab analysts.

But, some lawmakers balked at the idea, including Negron. He’s also the Senate budget chairman for criminal and civil justice issues.

So did Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), who reiterated that sentiment during Wednesday’s meeting.

“I still am having trouble wrapping my arms around the idea of outsourcing testing because FDLE—one of its primary functions is to process criminal evidence. It’s one of its core primary functions,” said Bradley.

Still, Pritt countered that they’re just trying to keep up with the backlog.

“And, I believe it is our core mission,” said Pritt. “We’re trying to keep up with the core mission that we have daily, not trying to account for a flood of untested evidence that suddenly comes to our doorstep.”

The FDLE just released the results of a final survey assessing law enforcement crime labs across the state. It found there are more than 13,000 untested rape kits in Florida, and of which about 94-hundred should be tested.

According to the report, other states had similar backlogs and outsourcing was a major factor in dealing with their backlogs—even though it took years for them to complete.

And, Pritt says for the limited number of crime lab analysts to handle that on their own—on top of handling other criminal evidence--it’s an extremely heavy lift.

“So, even if we were able to take all of our current analysts—there’s 76—and have them work on nothing other than this backlog of sexual assault kits, it would still take us nearly a year and a half to work off those sexual assault kits,” she stated. “And, that would assume that we would have to put all other incoming cases to include new sexual assault kits on hold, while we did that. So, we did not feel that based on the nature of our current capacity and workload that we could work off that backlog internally with our current resources in a timely and efficient or even cost effective manner. So, that is why it did not appear as a recommendation in the report.”

The three recommendations that did appear in the report could take anywhere from three to eight years to complete, and cost up to $32 million. Pritt says they’re recommending the most cost effective and efficient choice.

By outsourcing a maximum of 2,800 of the older rape kits a year, and getting more funds to use technology to keep up with the incoming workload, Pritt says it could take three years and cost $8.1 million.

Even though Negron acknowledged he knows if FDLE could, they would do the analysis in-house. But, he still asked Pritt if FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen could revisit the recommendations made in the report to see if there could be some better solutions.

“Is the Commissioner ready to come up with a plan on how we can have people working weekends, working evenings, doing things that happen when we go to trial, to be able to take this on,” asked Negron. “Can we try to do a little better than where we are in the report?”

“We are happy to go back and look at that, but I will tell you that we felt that we gave this, based on our capacity…and even knowing that if we were able with the legislative pay increase—assuming that were to happen—if we brought people on July 1, to bring us up to the full 95 analysts, they would not be fully trained to approximately 18 to 24 months in, which means they could fully do the case volume,” replied Pritt.

Still, Negron says if the legislature were to provide the resources for FDLE to recruit experienced analysts from other areas, that may help with speeding up the process.

And, Pritt says while they don’t know for sure, she’ll take that suggestion under advisement.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.