The Houston Police Department (HPD) serves over 2 million residents with approximately 5,300 sworn officers. Sexual assaults reported to HPD are investigated by detectives in the Special Victims Division.
As part of the opening of a new $13 million property storage facility in 2009, HPD selected a sample of sexual assault kits (SAKs) to determine their testing status. HPD learned that a portion of kits had never been submitted to the crime laboratory for testing. They responded by creating a multi-disciplinary group that would submit a proposal to study the situation and implement solutions. This reflected the Department's willingness to learn from past decisions through the collection of data and to identify viable responses that would improve operations. The National Institute of Justice funded the Houston project between 2011 and 2015. During this 2011 - 2015 time period HPD tested over 6,660 sexual assault kits in their possession that had not been tested.
Despite being grounded in the problem of unsubmitted SAKs, the project had a broad focus that recognized the complexity of sexual assaults and the complicated nature of investigating these crimes and prosecuting offenders. This focus meant the project addressed many aspects of sexual assault crimes, including investigative practices, the role of system and community advocates, crime laboratory processes, sexual assault nurse examiner practices, police-prosecution collaborations, and victim notification.