You Can’t Make Rats Out Of Mice

It never makes sense to fly off the handle over a headline, or even headline and article abstract, something I was about to do this morning when I read:

HPD fighting City Hall over
federal grant for rape kits

The Houston Police Department wants to use federal grant money to examine why thousands of sexual assault kits at HPD have gone untested, but city council members are questioning if the money should instead be spent on testing the evidence.

My first reaction put me squarely on the city council members’ side. DUH. Don’t ask why they weren’t tested, just test them.

The article, however, explains:

  • Last year, the department received a $1M grant to test rape kits.
  • This year’s grant was awarded so the police could study the greater efficacy of rape kits relative to how evidence gets collected, the process for completing a rape kit (which is what happens at the hospital) and how officers are involved in that process, and how the kits are used in court cases.

Let me be clear. The backlog of rape kits must be tested as quickly as possible. There is no question that criminals have gone unpunished, and some been free to carry out additional assaults, because of that inexcusable lapse that has been tolerated for too long.

But, two major points have to be acknowledged.

One, if HPD wrote the grant asking for research dollars, and the National Institute of Justice awarded the grant for research dollars, then the Houston Police Department must either use the grant award for the research outlined in the grant or refuse the grant. And, if they accept it, then use it for rape kit testing (and that was not a use allowed in the terms of the grant contract), they’ll have to refund the money.

Can you imagine the war path we’d all be on if HPD misappropriated federal grant dollars and had to refund the money?

Second, what if this research grant, one of only two awarded, uncovers better ways to collect evidence that is more useful in court, or easier to collect, or less expensive to test? We owe it to sexual assault victims not to assume that we’ve already got the state-of-the-art system in place; especially when it seems, given our backlog and the difficulty of getting serious sentences for assault perpetrators, that we do not.

If anyone on City Council wants to get knickers twisted about this grant, get’em twisted about whose decision it was to seek research funds instead of testing funds, and try to get the full story. Demand to know what the plan is for completing testing on the backlog, including timeline, budget, and plans for finding funds if those currently available aren’t adequate. But don’t throw a fit about something that, at this point, can’t be changed, namely, the terms of a grant already awarded.

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