FAIRBANKS — Alaska has hired a sexual-assault investigator to assist in reducing the state’s backlog of nearly 3,500 untested rape kits.
Retired Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Michael Burkmire will begin work at Alaska’s Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage. Burkmire ran the State Trooper’s Child Abuse Unit in the Mat-Su Valley before retiring, the Daily News-Miner reported Thursday.
He will go through the backlog and investigate previously unsolved cases related to sexual assault and sexual violence.
“Hiring Sgt. Burkmire and reducing the sexual assault evidence backlog are the latest steps in building a safer Alaska,” Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said. “Processing this evidence backlog is vital to ensuring justice for survivors of sexual assault.”
Alaska’s sexual crime rates are three times higher than the national average and child sexual assault rates are six times higher, the Daily News-Miner reported.
The FBI Uniform Crime Report said that nearly 60 percent of Alaska women report having experienced sexual violence in their lives.
The issue has caught the eye of legislators, prompting Democratic state Rep. Geran Tarr to introduce a bill that would require law enforcement agencies to report their number of untested rape kits to the state every year.
The bill also would shift the handling of sexual violence related cases to a victim-centered reporting approach and require at least 12 hours of sexual violence training at Alaska police academies.
“We know that when tested, DNA evidence obtained through testing sexual assault kits can be an incredibly powerful tool to solve and prevent crime,” Tarr said. “It is time to put public safety for Alaska women and families to the forefront.”
Currently, local law enforcement agencies across the state are required to make a one-time report of their untested sexual assault kits to the Alaska Department of Public Safety, according to legislation passed in 2017. The report showed that 49 Alaska law enforcement agencies have 3,484 untested sexual assault evidence kits.
Five percent of the untested rape kits were from the Fairbanks Police Department and 22 percent from the statewide Alaska State Troopers, according to the report.