A backlog of thousands of unprocessed rape kits, some dating back to the 1980s, has gone from a plan to process them to a new DNA evidence storage room for the Memphis Police Department.
Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong said Tuesday, Sept. 3, the new evidence storage room would be built at the current police impound lot at the old International Harvester plant in Frayser.
The facility is best known as the place where cars impounded by police are stored. But Armstrong outlined a plan Tuesday to build a climate-controlled facility there to not only deal with the backlog but also process rape kits in the future.
“It has to be a climate-controlled environment,” Armstrong told Memphis City Council members Tuesday as they approved $1 million in capital funding to get the project started. “It has to be an environment where we can catalog items in one particular place. … Right now they are being found in three different locations. It makes it extremely difficult for us.”
The capital funding will come from a $1.7 million line item the city had in the current fiscal year budget for infrastructure improvements connected to the expansion of International Paper headquarters in East Memphis. The Wharton administration said $1 million of the funding for the International Paper project would not be used in the current fiscal year.
Meanwhile, the council also approved a resolution Tuesday to spend $500,000 more from the police department’s operating budget for processing the backlog. Armstrong said he would find the extra money somewhere in his budget for the current fiscal year.
Armstrong’s agreement comes after an initial push by council member Kemp Conrad to use money from city reserves if necessary to process the DNA in the rape kits as quickly as possible.
While Armstrong put the emphasis on getting the rape kits processed moving forward, several council members pushed for an investigation and possible criminal charges for the kits not being processed in the past.
“Are you all not going back and asking any questions?” asked council member Wanda Halbert. “Or do we need to contact a higher authority?”
“I understand all of the emotional issues that go along with this,” Armstrong replied. “I’m not hiding from this. I’m not proud of this.”
When council member Bill Boyd pursued the point further, Armstrong said the laws and rules for processing such evidence have changed over the years. “We are going forward,” he added.
“We have some men who perhaps could have been exonerated,” council member Janis Fullilove said. “And we may have men who are guilty who are still running the streets.”
“This represents a total failure of justice,” added council member Shea Flinn. “This is job one of government.”