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How to make sure cops follow up on rape evidence

Robbins Mayor Tyrone Ward (at podium) in August 2013 discusses the untested rape kits found in the Robbins Police Department. | Casey Toner/Sun-Times Media

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Checking a rape test kit promptly for a DNA match is a good way not only to track down a suspect, but also to prevent another victim from attack.

Unfortunately, police departments don’t have the stellar record in this area that you might expect. Too often, the police let test results pile up in a back room where they do no good. The results are not being forwarded to the Illinois State Police to see if there is a genetic profile on file that matches the DNA in samples collected after a reported attack and preserved in a so-called rape test kit.

A bill now before the Legislature would address that problem by requiring the local state’s attorney to be notified when rape kit results are sent to a police department and also when a DNA match is found. It would require every police agency to do an annual audit of rape kits and file a report with the local state’s attorney. It would require the Illinois State Police to file a quarterly report on the number of kits it receives and processes.

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The idea is to create a record so that an outside pair of eyes can spot a police department that is letting a backlog of kits pile up. The sad track record of local police departments shows this bill is essential.

In the most notorious case, the Cook County Sheriff’s Police in 2013 found 176 rape kits — some dating back to the mid-1980s — gathering dust on a shelf in the Robbins Police evidence room. Fifty-five kits had never been tested while 121 had been submitted for testing with the results and evidence sent back to Robbins, but police had never followed up.

In one instance, a suspect remained on the streets for years after being identified through DNA even after State Police informed Robbins police there was a genetic match. He was caught only after Cook County sheriff’s police found the rape kits and followed up.

A sheriff’s spokesman says similar problems, although not as extensive, have been uncovered at other suburbs.

Untested DNA evidence is a problem that simply shouldn’t exist. Tracking the process early on to ensure it doesn’t happen is a reform that can’t come too quickly.

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