Despite sexual assault backlog, Phoenix police not using statewide tracking program

The Phoenix Police Department is the only law enforcement agency not using a statewide tracking system for sexual assault kits but it has an explanation.
Published: Aug. 31, 2023 at 6:54 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — As Phoenix police work to clear their sexual assault kit backlog, Arizona’s Family Investigates found they’re likely the only law enforcement agency in the state not using a specific tracking system for those kits. That system would provide doctors, police, prosecutors and survivors with real-time information on a kit.

It’s one of the most personal, violent crimes, but then the survivor is asked to submit to testing. Nurses take swabs of their skin, private parts and mouth, even scraping under their fingernails and combing through their hair. It’s called a sexual assault kit and police need that information to investigate.

Back in 2016, the state had a backlog of 6,400 kits. Then-Gov. Doug Ducey created a task force at the time. One of their recommendations was a statewide tracking system for sexual assault kits. Arizona went with a program known as Track-Kit. A widely respected system is now in place in 33 states.

“Essentially, what it is, is a barcode as well as a database. So every kit is coded. And then every single entity that touches that kit logs their activity within the system,” Jenna Panas, the CEO of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, said.

It gives everyone involved the latest information on where a kit is and if it’s been tested. “Survivors that know where their kit is, the status of the kit, experience greater control over that process,” Panas said.

The state pays for Track-Kit and offers it free to law enforcement agencies across Arizona. According to the latest Arizona Department of Public Safety’s annual report, 100 of them use it. Only two don’t – Phoenix and Mesa Police.

Arizona’s Family Investigates followed up with Mesa Police. They said they started using it last year. That makes Phoenix Police the only department surveyed not using the program. “To go through that process and update that way, we already have a system in place,” Sgt. Robert Scherer with Phoenix Police said.

They said their tracking system has been in place since 2016. “All a victim has to do is contact their case agent. They can give them, hey your kit is here. It’s being processed here,” he explained.

But as of Wednesday, Phoenix police had a backlog of 822 sexual assault kits. They admit survivors may need to reach out several times. “Call that case agent, email that case agent, they can check. They have real-time at their disposal,” Sgt. Scherer said.

Arizona’s Family Investigates asked Panas about Phoenix PD’s response. “I think that overlooks the value that a statewide accountability system holds,” Panas said.

She said most survivors are between the ages of 18 and 35 years old. “Those are folks that are most comfortable in an online environment, by saying police detectives are available by phone, you’re essentially creating artificial barriers,” Panas said. That’s why her group is pushing to make it mandatory for all law enforcement agencies in the state to use Track-Kit.

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