WASHINGTON - Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday promoted President Barack Obama's request for $35 million to help test more rape kits, saying it will help fight crime.
The money is included in the $3.9 trillion spending plan for the 2015 budget year that Obama unveiled this week. It would be used to provide grants of unspecified amounts to states and local governments, spending that would require approval from Congress.
Biden, who as a U.S. senator sponsored the Violence Against Women Act, said on a conference call with Attorney General Eric Holder that the testing of thousands of rape kits that are sitting around police storage rooms and other areas is not prioritized because officials do not realize what valuable information they contain.
The kits hold DNA and other evidence that is collected from a woman's body after she reports having been sexually assaulted.
Biden said it isn't known how many kits are waiting to be tested. The Joyful Heart Foundation, which works with victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, said experts have estimated that the number is in the hundreds of thousands.
In the past few years, rape-kit backlogs have been discovered in various cities and states, including 20,000 in Texas, more than 11,000 in Detroit and 4,000 in Illinois, according to the foundation.
Biden highlighted an analysis of 1,600 of the backlogged kits in Detroit that led to the identification of 87 suspected serial rapists, and more than 14 convictions involving 10 defendants.
"By testing these rape kits we can identify serial rapists, put them behind bars and bring the ultimate nightmare of the woman raped to an end," Biden said.
Holder cited a 2007 federal survey that said 43 percent of law enforcement agencies did not have computerized systems to track forensic evidence either in their property rooms or after the evidence was sent to crime labs. He said that was not acceptable.
"I recognize that government leaders and law enforcement officials across the country have been asked to do more with less, and especially in recent years," Holder said. "But the current state of affairs is simply unacceptable."
The grants also would pay to help develop "cold case" squads to investigate these cases, and to provide counseling and support for victims.