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MPD To Use $500,000 Grant To Test Rape Kits

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(Memphis) Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong says his department is seeking money to fund the testing of untested rape kit tests in Memphis.

The grant would pay for the testing of 2,226 rape kits.

Armstrong, who is seeking $500,000, says a number of test kits are being stored in three locations within MPD and many have never been submitted for testing.

The money is available from the Office of Criminal Justice Programs, a state office.

The Memphis City Council will need to approve a request in order to get the funding.

MPD said in a release, "Director Armstrong has made it a priority for his staff to catalogue the remaining sexual assault kits. While this is being completed, Director Armstrong will be examining avenues for additional funding."

“I will tell you they go back years, to the early 80's”, said Toney Armstrong, Memphis Police Director.

News Channel 3 has been exposing questions and issues with the testing, or lack of testing, of rape kits for three years.

In 2010, a News Channel 3 investigation uncovered hundreds of rape kits sitting in MPD evidence lockers without being tested.

Once our story aired, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said it was vital they get those kits and test them for DNA.

It’s called Project Memphis, and the goal is to test rape kits and find rapists.

In 2013, WREG discovered about 1,500 rape kits were sent to TBI.

All the kits went through a test to discover whether there was DNA on them.

Roughly 700 of the kits had DNA present.

Only 11 kits were actually tested to see to whom the DNA belonged.

A 20-year-old TBI policy says police must formally write the DA’s office and request a kit be tested for DNA.

The DA’s office then must sign the letter and pass it on to TBI, which will then finally do the test.

Memphis Police only requests tests for DNA when there’s a strong enough case to prosecute.

Other states immediately test kits and upload the results to the DNA database.

Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris has previously told us he wants to know why more kits are not tested.

“If it's a good sample and they’ve got the serology and they can go forward, they are doing that," he said. "If they're not, I'll find out why.”

One reason is the 20-year-old TBI policy, created when DNA evidence testing was in its infancy.

The policy states: “Full DNA tests are not performed without prior request from the district attorney general.”

Those requests only come after police build a case a strong enough case to  prosecute.

Memphis Deputy Police Chief Jim Harvey said multiple agencies decide which kits to send for DNA processing on a case-by-case basis, depending on the facts.

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich’s office is bound by TBI policy to send the letters.

She previously told us her office always asks for DNA processing on cases MPD wants tested.

“The focus needs to be that every case is different,” Weirich said. "And that just sending a bunch of kits off to a lab to be tested isn’t the easy fix, isn’t the answer to everyone's problems.”

After repeated questioning from the On Your Side Investigators, all three agencies agreed only 11 of the 700 rape kits with DNA should be tested.

They say the majority of cases don’t have enough evidence to prosecute because the kits don’t actually prove if someone was raped,  they only identify DNA.

While there may not be enough evidence to prove every reported rape, 689 kits with DNA on them sit untested, meaning serial rapists may never be caught or even identified – making the women brutally attacked feel like victims again.

The TBI said there’s no plan to change the rape kit policy because it works for Tennessee’s system.