While Memphis appears to have whittled that backlog down to just under 7,000 untested kits, there still remain 2,120 rape kits across the state that were never tested. Some of the kits go back to 1985.That's according to a report released Tuesday by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in response to a law passed earlier this year requiring all police agencies to account for all untested rape kits. Rape kit backlogs have exploded as a national problem over the past year. Thousands of evidence kits have gone untested across the country, raising serious questions about how seriously police are taking the issue of rape. Memphis stood out as one of the most egregious examples, with an estimated 12,000 untested rape kits.
"I'm disappointed if there's one rape kit that's not tested," said Tennessee Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, who has made rape kits a priority. "But my initial thoughts are any improvement is good for everyone."
The discovery of Memphis' rape kit problem led to several efforts to fund backlog reduction efforts. Instead, the Tennessee Legislature ordered every agency in the state to inventory their rape kits to determine the scope of the problem.
Initial estimates at the time were that some 20,000 rape kits may have gone untested over the years. But those estimates, as shown by Tuesday's report, may have proven overly pessimistic.
Despite its gains, Memphis police had far more untested rape kits than any other agency in the state. The Knoxville Police Department had the second-highest total, with 394. Nashville, which had acknowledged it had about 338 rape kits that went untested due to victim recantations or refusal to prosecute, has gotten that number down to 200, according to the report, making it the fourth highest.
Untested rape kits in Tennessee
A Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report found that 9,062 rape kits have gone untested across the state, some having been collected nearly 30 years ago.
Shelby County sheriff
Knox County sheriff
Hamilton County sheriff
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
The earliest Nashville kit was collected in 1996. Details about specific cases were not included in the report, and Metro police officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Perhaps most surprising in the report is that third-highest number of untested rape kits came from Jackson Police, which reported 249.
Parkinson said that the work to test all rape kits is only beginning.
"We can't stop here," he said. "We've got to keep the pressure on and keep reducing these."
Reach Brian Haas at 615-726-8968 and on Twitter @brianhaas.