MINNEAPOLIS - City officials need to take immediate action to address “high risk” problems with how the Minneapolis police department handles rape kits, including communicating with victims about testing results and better executing a plan to test a backlog of more than 1,700 sexual assault kits, according to an internal audit released Monday.
The city’s audit, prompted after the MPD revealed the existence of the backlog last fall, found testing those kits has been delayed, with only a handful tested so far. Meaningful testing of the kits, “may be six months to a year” away due to ineffective communication to enact a testing plan, and the need to hire and train additional scientists to complete the work.
“There has been little testing progress,” since last year, according to the audit.
The MPD revealed last fall that it had roughly eight times more untested kits than the 194 disclosed in a 2015 count. Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said at the time the city and the Hennepin County Attorney’s office would pool money to hire more analysts for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to do the testing.
That plan “has not been executed according to original expectations,” according to the audit.
City council member Linnea Palmisano, who chairs the committee that requested the audit, said that when the MPD first announced the discovery of 1,700 untested rape kits, the city, BCA and Hennepin County Attorney's office agreed that it "was all hands on deck" to get testing started as soon as possible. She claimed the the three agencies agreed to worry about funding later.
She said the BCA told the MPD to send its highest priority kits and the agency would work testing them into its current workload. More than 100 kits were sent.
But police were not getting results back. The city learned a couple weeks ago that only eight kits had been tested, Palmisano said.
"The BCA has to accept some level of responsibility here in saying 'send us these kits,' and then not doing anything," Palmisano said.
The audit pinned the delays on the time it has taken to hire and train the new scientists, as well as “differing expectations” among the BCA, the MPD and Hennepin County’s attorney’s office on who is responsible for ensuring the kits are tested as timely as possible. Responsibilities were not clearly defined, and communication between the agencies “is not effective.”
Palmisano said that was referring to the BCA failing to communicate that kits were not being tested.
The BCA said in a statement that the process to hire new scientists can only begin after the funding contracts have been authorized by all three agencies, and that the Hennepin County’s approval “is in the early stages.”
As the BCA awaits that approval, the agency said it is testing kits that have been prioritized by the MPD.
But that takes time. The BCA said the agency has seen an increase in average time to test the kits since 2015, from 45 days to 90 days.
“We expect that number to rise significantly with the addition of Minneapolis’ approximately 1,700 unsubmitted kits,” the BCA said. “The BCA will continue to work with Minneapolis PD on addressing their unsubmitted kits in a way that minimizes the impact on current cases, not only from MPD but from all law enforcement agencies across Minnesota.”
Palmisano said the BCA never told the city that testing would be delayed until analysts were hired and trained.
"The BCA has been sitting on their hands," she said.
BCA spokeswoman Jill Oliveira responded to Palmisano comments, saying that the kits provided to the MPD are being testing. With the average testing time of 90 days, the agency is getting results back to the MPD, "well with in our 90 day turnaround time," she said.
"Any characterization that the BCA isn’t doing anything or that the police aren’t getting results back is simply inaccurate," Oliveira said.
The Minneapolis audit also found that the MPD is failing to comply with a state law enacted in 2018 that requires police departments to have procedures on responding to sexual assault victims’ requests for information about rape kits.
That law mandates that police also have an identified representative to provide that information to victims.
A KARE 11 investigation last year revealed that failing to follow that law is a widespread problem among Minnesota police agencies, leaving sexual assault victims in the dark about the status of their kits.
The audit recommended creating statewide a tracking system, similar to ones developed by other states and profiled by KARE 11, that would allow victims to see the status of their kit testing online.
The auditors also recommended that the MPD meet regularly with both the BCA and the Hennepin County Attorney’s office to review the status of the testing and identify solutions if the testing falls off track.
The audit did not provide information as to why those untested kits had never been counted or discovered.