Dallas has the largest backlog of rape kits in the state — by a long shot
If passion and hard work were always enough, we wouldn’t be writing about this problem. The truth is, it’s not always enough, and we’re sorry to report that the Dallas Police Department has far more untested rape kits than any local Texas law enforcement agency, according to the latest report from the Texas Department of Public Safety.
In an audit on September 1, 2020, the agency reported that DPD has 1,051 untested kits. That’s nearly 30% of all untested kits in the trial that counted kits still in the possession of local law enforcement, and more than 17% of all untested kits in the state. The backlog in Dallas is nearly five times the size of the second largest backlog in the state reported by the Grand Prairie Police Department.
Police Sgt. Amy Mills heads DPD’s Sex Assault Unit, which is responsible for handling the rape kit backlog. She told us that DPD started testing old kits in 2015 when funding became available. Since then, her unit has submitted more than 4,700 kits for testing. But the backlog remains and is growing again due to the pandemic, according to Mills.
Mills said the large backlog is partly due to DPD not destroying old kits. Prior to the passage of the Lavinia Masters Act in 2019, Texas had a 10-year statute of limitations on cases of sexual assault. Many law enforcement agencies threw away kits after 10 years, Mills said. The law of 2019 lifted the statute of limitations.
“It’s not that we have so much more than everyone else. We only kept it well beyond the statute of limitations, ”said Mills. “I would challenge you to find another agency to keep records while Dallas does.”
However, Ramit Plushnick-Masti, director of communications at the Houston Forensic Science Center, which conducts rape kit testing for the Houston Police Department, said her agency never destroyed old kits and managed to completely clean up what was once 6,600 kits.
Mills’ unit has seven detectives, one of whom is not full, she told us. These detectives also investigate other crimes such as stalking and indecent exposure. Your unit is one of four investigating sexual assault. And it does a good job. Mills told us that testing old kits resulted in at least 25 arrests, including David Thomas Hawkins, a 74-year-old Keene man who was taken into custody last summer. DPD detectives linked him to more than 12 rapes in house invasions in the 1980s.
Mills is a tireless collaborator who pays close attention to the cases her department solves. She meets with the victims in person to persuade them to bring charges. And she takes care of the backlog.
“I was in the arms for years about how many profiles they had behind them,” Mills said of the DPS tests a few years ago.
But their hard work and passion have not been enough to clean up the largest backlog of rape kits in the state.
Memo to incoming chief Eddie Garcia: Sgt. Mills needs support, the victims she tries to help deserve justice, and Dallas cannot be the last to be dead in this category.