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New storage facility for sexual assault kits unveiled

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The city has unveiled a new $1 million sexual assault evidence storage facility.

WREG uncovered the staggering rape kit backlog in 2010, but Police lied about the problem and the city refused to even acknowledge it until 2013.

The city has been working to get kits tested since then and recently received almost $4 million in grants to help with that process.

The facility was built in a secluded area of Frayser, near the police impound lot.

"This day is important to our city, our citizens and this department because there is now a facility that we all can be confident in knowing sex crimes evidence, such as rape kits, can be properly preserved and cataloged," Police Director Toney Armstrong said of the facility.

"The storage area features a climate controlled, 24 X 38 foot DNA storage room," Mayor A C Wharton added.

It also had four sub-zero freezers, two work stations and a drying room for evidence exposed to bodily fluids.

Mayor Wharton said planning for the storage area started in late 2013, and it will hold up to 50,400 rape kits.

The only reason this facility was necessary, was because kits sat untested at multiple locations for years.

More than 26 kits could not be tested due to insufficient or degraded DNA, but the city claimed none of that was the result of improper storage.

"There are a lot of reasons why you would not be able to get suitable DNA from a kit," Armstrong said.

Coordinator for the Sexual Assault Kit Task Force Doug McGowen was recently named the COO for Mayor-elect Jim Strickland.

He said he wasn't sure yet whether he would continue to work with the task force or pass the torch on to someone else.

While Mayor Wharton said this storage facility was a step in the right direction, he admitted earning back the trust of victims and this community would be another story.

"It's up to us to keep working, not only by building a facility, but by rebuilding trust and being as transparent as we possibly can."

Approximately 52% of the sexual assault kits have gone through at least some testing.

But almost 6,000 are still sitting untested in storage or at forensic labs.