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ABQ mayor signs order to speed rape kit processing

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mayor Tim Keller on Wednesday signed an executive order that he says will ultimately help the city clear a staggering number of untested rape kits, a backlog that’s been building for years.

The order signed Wednesday calls on the Albuquerque Police Department to work with the Albuquerque Sexual Assault Evidence Response Team to create a comprehensive plan for clearing the backlog, which includes determining how much that effort would cost and finding vendors and federal grants.

The plan is supposed to be submitted to the mayor no later than March 15.

Keller, in his former position as state auditor, issued an audit in December 2016 that found there were more than 5,400 untested kits throughout the state, and more than 4,000, or 75 percent, of those kits were from the city of Albuquerque.

Connie Monahan, the statewide coordinator for sexual assault nurse examiners, said each untested kit would cost at least $600 to $1,000. Keller estimated clearing the entire backlog would be around $4 million.

“It’s an affordable item,” he said. “It’s achievable, which is rare for some of these issues.”

And even if the time to prosecute an offender for a particular rape has run out, Keller said there’s still reason to test the kit. He said initiatives to clear a backlog of rape kits in cities around the country, including Detroit and Cleveland led to hundreds of investigative leads in other cases.

From left, Connie Monahan, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) statewide coordinator, and Teresa D’Anza, director for Albuquerque SANE, and APD deputy chief Arturo Gonzalez listen as Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller speaks about a new executive order which states that APD will collaborate with the Albuquerque Sexual Assault Evidence Response Team to address the backlog of untested sexual assault evidence kits in APD’s possession, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018 in Albuquerque, N.M. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

“Make no mistake, this is law enforcement. This is getting criminals off our streets,” he said.

A rape kit is a collection of swabs taken from a victim, which can then be analyzed for DNA, which is then put through an FBI database to see if it matches a person who has already been arrested and had their DNA taken.

Keller credited the state, including the governor and the Department of Public Safety, for moving to address the backlog of untested kits after the audit came out. He described Albuquerque’s response as “sluggish.”

“The backlog is larger than when we did the original audit,” he said. “I would characterize their response as interested and sluggish, and at the end of the day it only scratched the surface.”

Former Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry last year announced that the city had been selected for a nearly $2.5 million federal grant to test some of the rape kits. The city hasn’t yet received the money.

One of the problems in Albuquerque is a lack of analysts at the city’s crime lab, said Teresa D’Anza, the director of Albuquerque SANE. She said Albuquerque only had three analysts and in the past six months hired six more, giving the city nine, though the six are still receiving training. She said the city should have 10 analysts.

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