Nearly 850 backlogged rape kits were found covered mold in the Austin Police Department’s storage last month.
The mold first came to light after Austin-based medical lab Signature Science was commissioned to help test rape kits that have been sitting there untested from as far back as the 1990s. An audit later revealed that of the 1,629 rape kits stored in a police refrigerator, 849 had mold growing on the outside.
In early May, the Austin Police Department brought in a commercial refrigeration company to seal the rape kits’ refrigeration unit, and police spent $20,000 on a dehumidifier, a drying cabinet, and other materials to prevent a mold infestation from appearing again. Lab sampling has since revealed that the mold outbreak did not violate the DNA samples inside the rape kits, as lab staff was able to successfully create a DNA profile from a tested kit.
“We’ve been doing everything we need to do since we’ve been made aware,” Austin’s Interim Police Chief Brian Manley said, according to the American-Statesman.
But the mold infestation still raises larger questions about how the Austin Police Department is handling its rape kit backlog, and whether the police department is taking the rape kit backlog’s storage conditions seriously. After a Texas Department of Public Safety official told the department to use a bleach solution to clean the rape kits’ exteriors, city officials, county officials, and prosecutors became concerned over the bleach’s effects on the kits during a monthly meeting. Police have since been ordered to stop using bleach on the kits until “further research on remediating the mold issues” is complete.
The Austin Police Department’s mold situation also brings about larger concerns over the state’s rape kit backlog in general. End the Backlog reveals that over 19,000 untested rape kits were sent to the Texas state lab in January 2017, and as of April 2017, an official Texas Department of Public Safety report reveals that 3,157 rape kits across Texas have yet to be tested. Rape kit testing can help bring rapists to justice and create larger profiles for serial sexual predators, making testing of kits sitting at police departments an urgent necessity.