A stark terror expressed by Memphis City Council members two weeks ago appears to have toned down into a determination to get the job done With the processing of thousands of untested rape kits dating back to the 1980s.
It may take years, though, before delayed justice will ever be served.
Council on Tuesday approved more $1.50 million to help clear the police department's backlog of thousands of untested DNA rape kits. Council approved a plan to spend a $500,000 to get more kits tested and in a separate vote they approved $1 million plan to build a new police climate controlled evidence facility to house the kits and other DNA evidence.
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"Our count as of now is 7,068 kits that we have We consider to be group rape kits," said Police Director Toney Armstrong. "We have still an additional 6,651 items that's going to require us to group into kits."
In 50 minutes where do you begin to explain how you're going to turn back the clock on 40 years of mismanagement and neglect? If you're Director Armstrong and Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich, you can at least earnestly attempt to give members of the city council's government committee an overview of the morass created by thousands of untested rape kits in storage.
"My team has to actually go through each and every one of these 6,000 items and put together a puzzle," the police director said.
Director Armstrong noted that of the more than 2,200 assembled kits his department and DAG Weirich's office have been working at a clip of processing 400 kits a month for potential DNA testing by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. However, in some cases there may not be the legal payoff of rape convictions.
"Probably what will happen, half of those will come back and results will be that there's not enough for us to do any further testing," DAG Weirich said. "That's typically what the numbers are. The other half we will send off to do DNA testing."
But, with the backlog of potential cases so massive and costly to process, DAG Weirich asserts the TBI will be hard pressed to provide the manpower, man hours and resources necessary to conduct extensive tests. Additional financing sources will be critical to maintain a sustained effort.
"There has been this commitment of additional resources both through the office of criminal justice programs and we are requesting at least authorization to expend some additional general fund dollars to continue to move the process," said George Little, city of Memphis chief administration officer.
Also addressed will be the issue of housing all of the rape kits in a central climate controlled area. Currently, the kits are in three different sites, including the Old Allen Police precinct, 201 Poplar and, perhaps the best location, the vast city-owned former International Harvester facility in Frayser.
In less than an hour you can't make up for decades of neglect but, with the hours of work that lie ahead to uncover the secrets of heinous crimes, you must use whatever time effectively.
Both of those votes cleared the council unanimously, but there were many questions about how this happened. Some council members calling for an investigation into previous police and city administrations and they want answers.
"It's just offensive because we're supposed to trust the police and to hear this and no one acts like they want to address it or do anything about it," said Councilwoman Wanda Halbert. "It's offensive to me not just as a councilman but a taxpaying citizen and as a women period."
"I'm not proud of the fact that it happened but I am proud of the fact that we have come up with, I feel like a pretty comprehensive plan," Director Armstrong said.
Director Armstrong said the new facility will allow the department to properly catalogue all of the evidence. He says all of the victims will be notified and MPD detectives will be working the cases.
But even this $500,000 for testing combined with a $500,000 grant the department received two weeks ago won't clear the entire backlog. Council members says this will start attacking the problem.
FX13 News reporter Matt Gerien contributed to this report.
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