Eleven untested sexual assault kits have been collected by the Joplin Police Department from smaller law enforcement agencies in the area and sent to a private lab for testing as part of a state effort to clear backlogs, the Missouri attorney general's office announced Monday.

The office of Attorney General Eric Schmitt is working with the Joplin Police Department as part of the SAFE Kits Initiative to help regional departments clear out a backlog of untested kits.

"Working with our law enforcement partners across the state to gather these untested sexual assault kits and get them to the lab to be tested as efficiently as possible is crucial to the success of the SAFE Kits Initiative and will potentially help in bringing offenders to justice in the future," Schmitt said. "Chief (Sloan) Rowland and the Joplin Police Department have been a tremendous help in gathering these kits from neighboring departments and sending them to the lab for testing.”

Rowland said a state-run lab has been overloaded for years by the number of rape kits to be tested. The attorney general's office found a private laboratory that could help catch up with a backlog of kits being held by local departments.

The attorney general is trying to get funding to get all of the tests in backlog processed.

Rowland said his department was able to submit 11 of 43 test kits collected from regional departments. There are 32 left to be sent of when the state can provide funding, he said.

"Obviously we want to get these kits reduced, and that's the reason we served as a hub and volunteered to continue serving as a hub" to collect and submit the tests, Rowland said.

Kits were brought to Joplin police from 11 area departments, such as those of Neosho and Carthage, and the Jasper, Newton and McDonald county sheriff's departments.

Rape kits are samples taken with the use of a medical procedure, usually at a hospital, to obtain a sample of that can be used to test DNA to try to match to suspects for prosecution.

The SAFE Kits Initiative, launched by the attorney general last year, is funded by a grant administered by the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance. It started by taking an inventory across the state. In November, the state released a report based on that inventory that there are more than 6,800 backlogged kits that had not been tested.

The attorney general’s office is also working on developing an electronic tracking system for kits, according to the statement.

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