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Akron is Deciding Whether to Pursue $1 Million To Tackle a Backlog of Sexual Assault Cases

photo of Rick Edwards, Bertina King
Akron Police Detective Bertina King (right) and Lt. Rick Edwards say the new task force would, if approved, include three investigators to pursue the backlog of sexual assault cases.

Akron City Council will decide tonight whether to pursue a $1 million federal grant so police can process a backlog of sexual assault cold cases.

In 2012, Akron sent 1,822 rape kits to be tested – some dating from the mid-1990s. Close to half of the kits came back with a match to someone in the FBI’s national DNA database.

Thousands of cases and one detective
But the city has just one detective trying to work through the cold cases linked to those rape kits. Detective Bertina King has been with the department since 1991, and has applied for the federal grant to form a team including three investigators. She says that even though there may be a DNA match in many of the old cases, there still has to be an investigation.

“Just like we would do if we had a rape today: Put together a photo array [and] see if the victim can identify them. Or it could be someone the victim actually had sex with consensually back then.”

In those cases, King says a DNA kit would likely not have been sent in the past for comparison to the FBI database. But now, she says all kits are sent to see if there could be a match with another, unrelated case.

Evolving police work
King says some aspects of police work have changed since the 1990s, including understanding the way victims remember details.

“We’re trying to show the officers that it’s never going to be 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. You’re going to have to go back and talk to them [and] just see what they’re able to remember. And you’ll be surprised just asking people, ‘What are you able to remember?’ instead of the ‘who, when, why and how’s' -- that’s what we want people to get away from when they’re dealing with the victims.”

King says the cases without matches to the national DNA database could still be pursued using other evidence, such as clothing or linens.