DPS: Sexual Assault Kit Initiative to help improve testing procedures, accountability

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - In Alaska, most are aware of a massive backlog of untested sexual assault kits across a number of different agencies. At the Alaska State Crime Lab, the Department of Public Safety has been trying to address that pileup, recently looking specifically to the results of a grant-funded program called the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative for guidance on how to improve testing procedures.

"Processes have changed," said Major Bryan Barlow of the Alaska State Troopers. "Sciences have changed, best practices have evolved. And this was an opportunity to come up to speed with those practices and improve our ability to represent victims of violent crimes."

The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, also known as SAKI, came about in 2017. A $1.1 million grant was distributed to DPS to fund the examination of 700 inventoried sex assault kits in an outside facility, similar to the Alaska State Crime Lab, in an effort to not only get results for the kits but also figure out a way to streamline the process of testing in order to better serve Alaskans.

"We're constantly looking for ways to better our processes, to serve our public," Barlow said, "and we saw this as a great opportunity to do just that."

Of the inventoried kits, 650 were previously untested. Eighty-two of the untested kits were not submitted for final testing, due to anonymous reports, damage, adjudication or mislabeling, but 568 of them went to a private lab for evaluation.

Barlow said the testing brings further review to the cases associated with each kit, with some of those being forwarded to the Department of Law for prosecutorial review.

"That will benefit or enhance the quality of investigations conducted by state troopers," he said, "but also other local law enforcement."

As the Alaska State Crime Lab itself is used for testing of cases from various agencies across the state, the hope is to use what was learned over the past few years - within SAKI - to improve accountability and manage other cases, past, present, and future.

"Working with them on what we've learned in terms of enhancing and improving," Barlow said, "coming in line with national best practices."

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