Policing the police: Cleveland law enforcement left hundreds of rape kits untested

Photo: Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

Cleveland’s police department seems to be having a difficult time following a law intended to find evidence in sexual assault crimes.

According to the city’s only daily newspaper, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, law enforcement officials failed to have hundreds of rape kits processed over a period of three years. An internal investigation of Cleveland law enforcement personnel for violation of a rape kit law is in progress.

The 2014 law, introduced by former State Sen. Capri Cafaro (D), requires the kits to be sent to a lab for testing within 30 days of a confirmed sex crime.

Based on public records, the Plain Dealer reports, police department officials discovered the detective responsible for transporting kits was negligent and had not been submitting them in a timely manner, thus creating a “backlog.” The records show at least 220 kits had gone untested in 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Before this most recent discovery, the department was thought to have been in compliance with the law and on track. It was even thought to be on a path of steadily improving DNA testing since 2009, when it made testing a higher priority. At the time CPD was credited, among other law enforcement agencies, with being a leader when it came to clearing up testing backlogs on then-current cases, as well as older cases dating back to 1993.

Traditional police agency partners like the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, as well as City Council members like Matt Zone, told the newspaper they are either disheartened or disappointed by the new findings. The Plain Dealer is asking tough questions of the department, and engaging the community to help dig deeper to find an explanation for the police department’s apparent backsliding.

In a February 18 article, the news outlet asked readers to help come up with more questions — which have yet to be answered by either Democratic Mayor Frank Jackson’s Action Center or city Police Chief Calvin D. Williams.

Among other questions, readers want to know:

  • How did the department find out about the sexual assault kits that were not properly being sent for testing?
  • Has anyone or is anyone being disciplined for the kits not being sent per department policy and Ohio law?
  • Did detectives or supervisors alert anyone that they were not receiving information on tested evidence in a timely manner?
  • Were victims whose kits were not tested in a timely manner notified about the delay when it was discovered?
  • What were the results of testing the backlog of kits? Were arrests made? Does the department know of any instances where another offense was committed by a suspect who was eventually identified by the delayed testing?

A spokeswoman for the department told the Plain Dealer she is unable to comment on the violations, citing an investigation by the department’s Bureau of Integrity Control.