Montana Awarded $2 Million Grant to Test, Track Unsubmitted Sex Assault Kits

Attorney General Tim Fox announced today that Montana has been awarded a $2 million federal grant to test and track unsubmitted sex-assault evidence kits across the state. This is in addition to a $284,500 grant Montana received earlier this month specifically for kit tracking.

At the request of Attorney General Fox’s Sexual Assault Evidence Task Force, Tina Chamberlain with the Montana Board of Crime Control submitted an application to the Bureau of Justice Assistance for the FY 2016 National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Competitive Grant, requesting $2 million. The National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative provides an opportunity for Montana to inventory, test, and track unsubmitted sexual assault kits, examine the issues surrounding why the kits were not submitted, and facilitate a development of victim-centered policies and procedures in responding to sexual assaults and eliminating unsubmitted kits.

“This is great news for survivors of sexual assault and for all Montanans concerned about justice,” Fox said. “We are moving forward with our comprehensive, statewide plan to address unsubmitted sex assault evidence kits being held by local law enforcement agencies. The issues of sexual assault prevention, investigation, and prosecution are very important to the Montana Department of Justice and we’ve taken a number of proactive steps to enhance law enforcement’s response to sex assault crimes. The issue of unsubmitted kits is a key element of not only addressing how previous cases have been handled, but how we can work toward a consistent, comprehensive approach to sex assault crimes in Montana. I want to thank our Sexual Assault Task Force members and the Board of Crime Control for their hard work in putting together the successful grant application. We look forward to ensuring every unsubmitted sexual assault kit that exists in Montana is sent in for testing and that survivors of sexual assault receive the justice they deserve.”

Deb Matteucci, executive director of the Board of Crime Control, said, “We are thrilled to be partners in this very important initiative. The role of our agency is to facilitate strategic planning within the criminal justice system, identify needs, promote public safety, support services to crime victims and strengthen the performance of the justice system. As one of our victims’ program specialists and grant managers, Ms. Chamberlain was able to develop a compelling proposal and bring this important resource to the state.  We are looking forward to working with Attorney General Fox’s task force, the state crime lab, local law enforcement, and others to seek justice for victims of sexual assault.”

Last December, the Attorney General’s Office contacted every county sheriff and city police chief in Montana asking for a census of unsubmitted kits in their possession.  They were asked to provide the total number of unsubmitted kits, the date of each kit, and general reasons why each kit was not submitted to the state crime laboratory. During that same month, Attorney General Fox appointed the  Montana Sexual Assault Evidence Task Force. He directed its members to examine the issue of unsubmitted kits in Montana and to develop policies and protocols for submission of kits for forensic testing.

Now that the grants has been awarded, a coordinator will be hired to facilitate communication between the task force and project partners, as well as law enforcement jurisdictions and survivors whose kits result in positive DNA hits in the national Combined DNA Index System.  The coordinator will also track Montana’s approximately 1,400 unsubmitted kits throughout the three-year project. Other positions, including an investigator to assist local agencies with unsolved cases, a community victim advocate, and a law enforcement training coordinator will also be filled as part of the project.  Grant funds will also be used to produce a law enforcement field guide outlining policies and procedures for sexual assault investigations.

Testing of the unsubmitted kits will be outsourced; those closest to nearing the statute of limitations will be prioritized. It is estimated all testing will be complete in 18 months.

One critical component of Attorney General Fox’s plan is to provide assistance to the seven tribal governments in the state.  While tribal governments work under their own sovereign nation justice initiatives, the Montana Attorney General’s Office will ensure that training opportunities and technical assistance are available to help tribes establish their own sexual assault protocols in evidence collection, tracking, investigations, prosecutions, and victim assistance.

The grant project narrative, including an implementation timeline, is available here: https://dojmt.gov/wp-content/uploads/MBCC-2016-SAKI-Proj-Narrative.pdf.

More information about Attorney General Fox’s task force is available here: https://dojmt.gov/agooffice/sexual-assault-evidence-task-force/.

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