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NYS Office of Victim Services opens new secure facility to store rape kits

Ilse Knecht, Director, Policy and Advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation,  Kaylin Dawson, R.N., Division of Forensic Medicine Program Manager at Albany Medical Center; New York State Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin.
Dave Lucas
/
WAMC
Ilse Knecht, Director, Policy and Advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation, Kaylin Dawson, R.N., Division of Forensic Medicine Program Manager at Albany Medical Center; New York State Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and state officials appeared at Albany Medical Center today to announce the opening of a new evidence storage facility.

New York State Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin says the agency has opened a secure facility where it will store sexual offense evidence collection kits that have not been released to law enforcement custody.

“So that in the event that people want to have their kits tested that the evidence will be there, and they can make an informed decision about that," Cronin said. "You know, we expect that people will respond to an assault in a way that we think that they should respond. And that's not how things happen. And we have to be supportive of people's decisions in whatever way they choose to make them.”

The facility is at an undisclosed location. It’s climate controlled. And Cronin says 525 items have already been sent there.

State law requires unreported kits to be stored for 20 years from the date of collection. When construction finishes on a second wing of the building it will be able to store 26,000 items of evidence.

“We established this facility to comply with a relatively recent state law that expanded retention of sexual assault evidence collection kits from 30 days to 20 years," said Cronin. "And that was a recognition that many victims of assault are not in any position to make critical decisions about what they want to do with evidence that is collected in that short period of time. Moreover, we found that there was an inconsistency among medical providers as to how long they kept the evidence. So, some dispose of it after 30 days, some held on for a year, some held on to it indefinitely, and so there wasn't any consistency for victims to know what is going to happen with my evidence.”

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple says the facility will be a boon to law enforcement statewide.

“When the law changed, we actually had to go out, on the local taxpayers, and purchase large refrigerators to store and hold to our rape kits," Apple said. "Now we're, as I sit here talking to you right now we have well over 100, and the oldest one being since 1999. So, obviously, there's a lot. Some of these smaller agencies, it's almost impossible for them to do this. So I'm super excited to see the state step up, have a large facility where these can all be maintained, protect our survivors and our victims. And again, people may change their mind down the road, you know, maybe it's not something you can make a decision on in 20 minutes or an hour or a day. But to be able to know that this is there, is a really good peace of mind for a lot of our victims.”

Cronin says $4.3 million in funding for the facility came from the state. The building was already standing and an additional $1.2 million went toward renovation. Another $1.5 million in funding was appropriated to build the wing.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.