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$4M funding to help clear Nevada backlog in rape kit testing

Nevada’s growing backlog of untested rape kits could shrink significantly thanks to a $4.35 million injection of funding approved Thursday.

That’s $1.35 million more than what was initially planned for rape kit funding under a law passed by the Nevada Legislature this year.

The funding proposal came from the attorney general’s office, which says the funding will help the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department test the hundreds of rape kits that have accumulated in Southern Nevada since the start of 2015, and hopefully prevent any future backlog.

“It’s absolutely imperative that we give victims of sexual assault this important part of the criminal justice process,” Attorney General Adam Laxalt told the Review-Journal after the funding was unanimously approved by the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee.

The new law mandates that rape kits be tested within 120 days, and allocated $3 million to get that testing started. The remaining $1.35 million comes out of settlement funds from the attorney general’s office.

Las Vegas police will get approximately $2.7 million of the funding and the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office will receive approximately $1.65 million.

Tod Story, executive director for ACLU of Nevada, praised the additional funding.

“The American Civil Liberties of Nevada opposes attempts by the government to expand its DNA collection scheme, especially to people who have not been convicted of any crimes, but we believe that victims of sexual assault deserve to have their sexual assault examinations tested in a timely manner,” he said. “We hope the additional funds approved today will help the state’s forensics labs process these examinations quickly and accurately.”

In 2015, the state approved $3.7 million in funding to help clear the backlog of 6,500 untested rape kits performed between 1985-2014. Approximately 5,600 of those came from Clark County. Kim Murga, Metro’s DNA laboratory director, said that funding has helped the state test 1,800 of those older kits.

Approximately 1,200 new rape kits go through Las Vegas police’s DNA lab each year, and 858 rape kits have gone untested since January 2015, Murga said.

The new funding will allow Metro to outsource backlogged rape kits as well as cover the salary for three new staff members for the department’s testing lab for the next two years.

Murga said she projects that eight new full-time employees will be needed to stay on top of those new kits, but said the three new positions are “a very good jump start for us.”

Money matters

Rape Kit testing funding breakdown:

$4.35 million - total new funding rape kit testing backlog in Nevada

$2.7 million - for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department DNA lab to test rape kits

858 - untested rape kits in Las Vegas Police’s lab since Jan. 2015

3 - new lab staff employees for Las Vegas Police DNA lab

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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