State lawmakers were right to earmark $10.3 million in the 2019-21 operating budget to eliminate the state's backlog of sexual assault evidence kits. The allocation will give the Washington State Patrol the resources it needs to tackle the problem, a mandate to do so by the end of 2021 and the means to ensure this type of lapse is never repeated.
Much credit goes to state Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, who led efforts to address this serious issue with HB1166. As this editorial board has written before, our state's backlog of unprocessed rape kits — which now may exceed 10,000 — is unconscionable. Clearing them is an urgent priority that will help provide justice for survivors. Many survivors have been waiting years for resolution of their cases and to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes.
The legislation and funding will greatly enhance law enforcement's ability to investigate reports of sexual assault by ensuring timely testing and analysis. DNA from roughly one in four kits finds a match in the FBI's Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). That is an extraordinary return on a prudent investment of public funds. The findings can lead to an arrest in a single case or help identify repeat offenders, making everyone safer.
Finally, the allocation makes good on the new state budget's provision for a high-throughput testing laboratory in Vancouver. The new facility will reduce by half the time it takes to process each kit, and its overall capacity accommodates the number of kits submitted each year. The new lab will relay the results of each test more quickly and broadly, too, automatically uploading results to the federal database.
Washington's investment in law enforcement is blunted when investigators cannot count on timely access to vital forensic evidence. Our investments in victim-support and rape-prevention services are weakened when victims' courage is met by the appearance of institutional indifference. The Legislature has provided the tools and guidance to change that, at least on paper. Now law enforcement and its allies must follow through on the commitment.
There's no more excuse. It's time to get this done.
The Seattle Times editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Brier Dudley, Mark Higgins, Derrick Nunnally and William K. Blethen (emeritus).