Crime

In video, Springfield police chief apologizes for destroying rape kits, bad practices

Springfield police chief apologizes for department’s handling of sex assault cases

Springfield, Mo., Police Chief Paul Williams offered an apology to the city's sexual assault victims and explained changes the department would make in handling sex crime cases.
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Springfield, Mo., Police Chief Paul Williams offered an apology to the city's sexual assault victims and explained changes the department would make in handling sex crime cases.

Springfield police in the past were wrong to destroy dozens of rape kits, to leave many untested and to pressure victims to quickly commit to helping investigators, Chief Paul Williams said in a public apology on video.

“The SPD takes full responsibility for what we now know are mistakes in our handling of past sexual assault cases,” Williams said.

The chief’s statement came in response to a recent CNN investigation that highlighted Springfield among 25 departments nationwide that CNN found had destroyed rape kits — critical to maintaining DNA and other evidence — while there remained a chance the cases could be prosecuted.

Springfield, CNN reported, discarded 108 kits between 2010 and early 2015 while prosecution was still viable. And of those kits, the news network said, 75 percent were never tested.

Williams said Springfield reformed its practices in rape investigations after 2014.

“SPD remains committed to testing all sexual assault kits and retaining the evidence indefinitely,” he said in his video statement.

Williams told the Springfield News-Leader that the department never should have destroyed the rape kits, or let some go untested.

It was also wrong to ask victims to fill out “decline-to-prosecute” forms if they were not willing to cooperate and help pursue a prosecution.

The practices of the Springfield police “were not uncommon” among other law enforcement agencies in the nation, he said.

Experts told CNN, however, that Springfield was one of several police agencies as late as 2014 that were not following best practices that dated back to 2005.

Missouri lawmakers passed new law in 2018 that requires hospitals or clinics that perform rape tests to forward results to police within 14 days, and that police forward those tests to crime labs within another 14 days.

The action came as Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office conducted an audit earlier this year that found a backlog of 5,424 untested rape kits among law enforcement departments, hospitals and crime labs across the state.

It also found that about one-third of rape kits had been destroyed too soon, before statute of limitations had expired, against the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Williams, in his statement, urged any victim of sexual assault who has not reported it to contact police. He asked any victim who in the past reported a sexual assault they fear was not properly investigated to come back.

“I assure you,” he said, “the Springfield Police Department will investigate your report thoroughly and completely.”

He acknowledged, since some rape kits have been destroyed, that some of the past practices can’t be undone.

“To the victims of sexual assault and their families who have been affected by these past mistakes,” he said, “we sincerely apologize.”

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