ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia Bureau of Investigation's crime lab is making progress in a years-long effort to test thousands of backlogged sexual assault evidence packages, authorities said.
The agency's goal is to clear out the old rape kits by the first of next year, allowing it to then concentrate on new criminal cases coming in for analysis.
"We see a light at the end of the tunnel," Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan said.
The push to test a backlog of almost 10,000 sexual assault kits began after 1,351 untested rape kits were discovered in storage in 2015 at Grady Memorial Hospital, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported .
The 2016 Georgia Legislature responded by passing a law requiring all Georgia law enforcement agencies to send stored rape kits to the GBI headquarters in Decatur for testing. Eventually those numbered 2,476, which was in addition to the old evidence packages from Grady.
The lab already had more than 5,400 evidence kits from sex crimes prior to 1999 that had not been processed because the technology did not exist at the time, the Atlanta newspaper reported.
Also, the lab was logging in an average of 250 new sexual assault kits each month.
"We're in this position because the system failed, but I am encouraged we've taken action to fix it and we're making progress. But it never should have happened in the first place," said state Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, one of the sponsors of the 2016 legislation.
The backlog has since been cut by more than two-thirds and is now less than 2,900. The GBI has contracted with an outside lab to process the older cases while the state's 50 scientists and technicians focus on new cases.
"I'm pleased, but when there is still a third outstanding it's hard to jump up and down with joy," said state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, one of the sponsors of the legislation that required law enforcement to submit rape kits to the GBI.