JUSTICE DEPARTMENT AWARDS $14 MILLION TO LAW ENFORCEMENT TO SOLVE 'COLD CASES' AT 1ST CONFERENCE ON IDENTIFYING THE MISSING
PHILADELPHIA - Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey today announced awards of $14.2 million to law enforcement agencies nationwide to help solve old, unsolved "cold" cases and identify the missing using DNA evidence. The announcement was made at the first-ever Department of Justice (DOJ) conference on the missing and unidentified dead - National Strategy Meeting: Identifying the Missing.
Thirty-eight jurisdictions nationwide will receive funding to help solve cold cases using DNA evidence. The grants are part of the President's DNA Initiative, Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology, a five-year, more than $1 billion effort to eliminate casework and the convicted offender backlog; improve crime lab capacity; provide DNA training; provide for post-conviction DNA testing; and conduct testing to identify missing persons. Last fall, the Department of Justice awarded $95 million in DNA grants nationwide.
"For those of us in law enforcement, there is no group of people that we deal with who are more important than the victims of crime. This is especially true when a member of someone's family goes missing and is not found or identified," said Deputy Attorney General Comey. "These awards, combined with an enhanced relationship among law enforcement, medical examiners, victim advocates, and forensic scientists, will help solve cases. By doing that, we can bring justice for the victims of crime, and peace of mind to their families."
Additionally, Deputy Attorney General Comey issued a directive to establish a national task force on solving cases of missing persons and unidentified remains. The task force will include representatives from local, state, and federal law enforcement, the forensic medical community, the crime victims community, and others with applicable experience and expertise, to review how the Department of Justice can improve the quantity and quality of information, and the access to federal databases to solve missing persons cases and identify human remains.
The promise of DNA to help solve cold cases and identify the missing and deceased is endless. On average, there are over 100,000 missing persons listed in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the national, computerized index of criminal justice information. Over 45,000 of those have a last known contact of over a year ago and just 50 of the missing persons in the NCIC have their DNA information listed. Of the 5,800 unidentified dead that are listed in the NCIC, only 33 of these have their DNA information entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a database that enables federal, state, and local crime labs to exchange and compare DNA profiles electronically, thereby linking crimes to each other and to convicted offenders. However, there are an additional 244 DNA profiles of unidentified human remains in CODIS that are not recorded in NCIC.
The National Strategy Meeting participants will discuss ways to improve initial missing-persons information collection, to improve the collection and identification of unidentified remains and to bridge any information gaps by ensuring that adequate technology is available to law enforcement and forensic scientists to match the missing and human remains.
The Department of Justice will facilitate discussion about the development of model state legislation and policies for law enforcement, medical examiners and coroners to improve the ability to locate the missing, the timely identification of human remains, and information sharing.
Additionally, DOJ will offer regional training later this year to assist law enforcement with solving cold cases. DOJ will also offer a workshop for applicants not selected for awards, which will provide information about resources available to assist with the identification of missing persons and unidentified remains.
Grants from the Department of Justice have already helped law enforcement solve cold cases. Last year, a Florida man was convicted for the 1993 rape and murder of a 27-year-old Seattle area singer after his DNA linked him to the crime through CODIS. The Washington State Patrol helped solve the crime with grant money it received from the Department of Justice, which provided for processing of old cases with no known suspect.
Many public crime laboratories are not fully equipped to handle the increased demand for DNA testing. Throughout the country, there are large backlogs of unanalyzed DNA samples from convicted offenders and crime scenes. These backlogs can significantly delay criminal investigations and the administration of justice, allowing cases to grow cold.
According to a study funded by the National Institute of Justice, the research, development and evaluation arm of the Department of Justice, researchers estimate that biological evidence either still in the possession of local law enforcement or backlogged at forensic crime laboratories is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. With these grants, the Department of Justice has made sure that local jurisdictions, which often have the greatest DNA backlogs, are directly awarded DNA money.
The Office of Justice Programs provides federal leadership in developing the nation's capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist victims. OJP is headed by an Assistant Attorney General and comprises five component bureaus and two offices: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; and Office for Victims of Crime, as well as the Office of the Police Corps and Law Enforcement Education and the Community Capacity Development Office, which incorporates the Weed and Seed strategy and OJP's American Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Desk. More information can be found at www.ojp.usdoj.gov.