May 5, 2016

State Auditor prepares for work on clearing rape kit backlog

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Andy Lyman

State Auditor Tim Keller at a press conference.

New Mexico’s State Auditor is gearing up for the next step in clearing the backlog of untested sexual assault evidence kits, or rape kits, throughout the state.

State Auditor Tim Keller announced Thursday his office will conduct a statewide survey of law enforcement agencies and an audit of eight police agencies to get an idea of how rape kits are tested.

“We are working with law enforcement agencies and stakeholders to shine a light on what changes are needed to eliminate the backlog and keep it from happening again,” Keller said in a statement.

Last year Keller’s office found that there were over 5,000 untested evidence kits around the state. A majority of these were within the Albuquerque Police Department.

After a public outcry, the state legislature approved about $1 million in funding to help the Department of Public Safety clear the backlog. Gov. Susana Martinez approved the funding request.

Connie Monahan, the Statewide Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Coordinator at the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, said money is a “big piece” in solving the backlog, but that New Mexico needs to fully understand how to prevent another backlog.

“It’s worth the time and money to have a better understanding and to change the future,” Monahan said.

APD is one of the agencies chosen by the Office of the Auditor’s office along with Sheriff’s offices in Curry, Grant and Bernalillo counties. The Auditor’s office also chose departments from Farmington, Gallup, Hobbs and Las Cruces for the the audit.

Keller’s staff will also meet with members of the public in each respective community, according to the press release.

The issue of backlogged evidence kits have garnered national attention in the past few years. Last year, Keller and two candidates for the Second Judicial District Attorney called on the state to look into the issue locally.

One of the DA candidates Raul Torrez has been vocal on clearing the backlog since early on in his campaign. Torrez said he’s glad to see the issue is being looked at

“I think it’s an excellent step forward,” Torrez said of the audits.

An interim legislative committee later held a hearing where the consensus was that the Department of Public Safety needed more money and resources in order to clear the pending kits.

Keller’s office said the audits and surveys will take place this summer and will be made available to the public.