HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania has done a poor job informing local law enforcement agencies about new requirements to report the number of untested rape kits, the state auditor general said Wednesday.
Eugene DePasquale said confusing information from the state Department of Health and other agencies may have contributed to incomplete reporting on a testing backlog that critics have said could stifle sex-assault investigations.
"This inadequate communication contributed to a low participation rate by law enforcement agencies, which in turn caused an undercounting of kits awaiting testing," he said at a news conference.
Concern about rape kits has grown nationwide, stoked by reports of thousands of untested kits. Advocates say that by sharing DNA collected from kits, investigators across the country can make connections between cases.
A 2015 law required law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania to give the Department of Health an initial count of sexual-assault cases within their jurisdiction for which evidence had not been submitted to a lab. Labs were required to report how many kits had not been analyzed. The agencies and labs also had to begin preparing annual reports of how many kits were "backlogged" or had been awaiting testing for at least a year.
In April, the Health Department reported it had been notified of 3,044 kits that had not been submitted for testing and 1,852 backlogged kits.
DePasquale's report questioned the accuracy of the 3,044 total, noting it did not include 58 untested kits from the state police. Among the backlogged kits, it found Philadelphia accounted for 1,294, or nearly 70 percent.
DePasquale, a Democrat seeking a second term in November, said the General Assembly had failed to provide money for complying with the reporting requirements or to test additional kits. Testing costs an average of $1,000 to $1,500 per kit, his office said.
On Tuesday, the state police and Department of Health announced that the state police will now assist in establishing forensic laboratory guidelines and collecting backlogged data from laboratories and law enforcement agencies.
"We feel that as time goes on, the accuracy of the reporting will improve because more and more local police departments will become aware of their part in the process," Health Department spokeswoman April Hutcheson said in an email.
She said the department worked with the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, and the state police to communicate the new requirements to local police departments, and also held training sessions for law enforcement.
DePasquale recommended that the state provide more money for testing and data collection, and that labs seek federal funding. He also advised the Health Department to establish a hotline for hospitals to report rape kits that are not picked up within 72 hours, and to work more closely with law enforcement associations to communicate reporting requirements.