THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
INTERNATIONAL HOMICIDE INVESTIGATORS ASSOCIATION
ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL HOMICIDE SYMPOSIUM
"NEVER FORGOTTEN 2003"
SEPTEMBER 9, 2003
LAS VEGAS, NV
Good morning! I’m honored to be here and to have this opportunity to thank you for the work you do every day to ensure justice for homicide victims and their families. At the Department of Justice, we share your determination to make sure that crime victims are “never forgotten” and that their murderers are brought to justice.
In the post-9/11 era, federal law enforcement agencies are appropriately focused on a new kind of homicide- terrorism. But the Department of Justice is still committed to assisting you with the war against more traditional violent criminals, and the protection of our citizens in their neighborhoods, as well as at our borders.
I’d like to talk to you today about two major Administration initiatives that are designed to give you better resources to investigate homicides and other violent crimes, to identify perpetrators, and to protect the innocent.
The first is the President’s initiative to advance the use of DNA evidence. The second is our National AMBER Alert initiative, which aims to expand this life-saving program nationwide to safely recover abducted children.
As you know, DNA technology has forever changed the way police investigate cases, collect crime scene evidence, and identify suspects. What fingerprints were to criminal justice in the 20th century, DNA is to the 21st. The U.K. is far ahead of the U.S. in the use of DNA to solve crimes, and we have learned a great deal from their example.
This Administration believes that better use of DNA evidence holds tremendous potential for increasing our capacity to solve crimes. This potential was demonstrated in two major cases that recently made headlines.
In April, Seattle police solved a 20-year-old murder case using the ruse of promised money to lure a suspect into sending them a return envelope that allowed them to obtain DNA from the suspect’s saliva on the seal.
The power of DNA also made headlines in the arrest of a suspected serial killer in Louisiana. DNA taken from the body of a murdered 26-year-old Louisiana State University student matched the DNA taken from this man, who was a suspect in an unrelated case. This DNA evidence also linked the murder suspect to the deaths of four other Louisiana women.
I’m sure you all have similar examples from your own case files. Unfortunately, as you know all too well, the power of DNA technology to solve cases has been limited due to inadequate laboratory capacity, outdated information systems, overwhelming caseloads, and a lack of training.
As a result, there are hundreds of thousands of DNA samples awaiting analysis in crime labs across the country, thousands of investigators waiting for crucial information to help solve crimes, countless victims awaiting resolution to their cases, and countless offenders who are not being held accountable for their crimes.
To address these problems, this spring, President Bush launched an unprecedented federal initiative to advance the cause of justice through the use of DNA technology. The President has proposed spending a total of more than $1 billion over the next 5 years in federal support for this effort, and we have asked Congress for the first installment of $232 million in our 2004 budget request.
Through the President’s DNA initiative, if we can get the Congressional appropriations we have requested, we’ll provide resources to help law enforcement and other criminal justice practitioners more effectively collect, use, and analyze DNA evidence to solve cases.
Next year, for example, we hope to provide almost $93 million to help eliminate the substantial backlog of DNA samples for the most serious violent offenses, as well as the backlog of convicted offender samples that have not yet been tested.
We want to use another $60 million next year to enhance the ability of crime labs to analyze DNA evidence. Currently, there are 130 public crime labs in the U.S. that are capable of DNA analysis. But fewer than 10 percent have the automated facilities needed to conduct efficient and accurate tests. Our funds will help these labs employ technology – such as bar-coding, robotics, and advanced computer support – to analyze more samples and to help solve more crimes.
We’ll also use about $10 million to expand the capacity of CODIS – the national DNA database. This effort will improve state and local law enforcement’s access to the system and reduce search time from hours to microseconds. We’ve already doubled the number of crime scene samples matched to convicted offender samples in CODIS – from 2,200 in 2001 to almost 5,000 last year.
As the Attorney General said in announcing these results, “This translates into thousands of crimes solved, rapists and murderers caught, and fewer victims.” Under the President’s initiative, we’ll significantly expand the capacity of CODIS from its current 1.7 million DNA profiles to 50 million.
Another aspect of the DNA initiative is to stimulate research and development on DNA testing. For example, we’re working to develop faster, less expensive methods of conducting DNA tests that will speed the testing of samples in forensic labs across the country. Our National Institute of Justice has developed a prototype microchip that will permit scientists to analyze 8 DNA samples simultaneously in under 20 minutes.
In the not-too-distant future, you may be able to use a hand-held device that could test a suspect’s DNA while you’re interviewing him. If we get the appropriation we’ve requested, we’ll spend almost $25 million next year to support further research and development of DNA technology.
The President’s DNA initiative also will support training to help law enforcement and other criminal justice professionals better understand the full potential of DNA testing to solve cases. The importance of this training was illustrated recently when an alert police officer in Prince George’s County, Maryland, used DNA evidence to identify a suspect wanted in a string of sexual assaults.
The officer stopped and questioned a man who matched a description of the rapist. After the suspect left, the officer bent down to pick up a napkin the man had used to blow his nose. DNA testing matched the evidence on the napkin to the DNA evidence recovered from the rape victims. The man was arrested and last month pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree rape.
In another case in Texas, an investigator solved the rape of a local college student by requesting DNA testing on the phone cord used to choke the woman. The perpetrator had worn gloves, and the cord bore no fingerprints. However, DNA testing revealed saliva on the phone cord. Evidently, the rapist had held the cord in his mouth while subduing the victim. The DNA evidence from the cord solved not only that case, but also a similar sexual assault in another city.
Without these officers’ knowledge of the crime-solving possibilities of DNA evidence, these cases might never have been solved, the perpetrators might still be free, and neighborhood residents might still be living in fear.
We’ve allocated $17.5 million next year to support training for law enforcement and other criminal justice practitioners in the collection and use of DNA evidence.
Our goal is to ensure that police officers and medical personnel collect evidence properly, that prosecutors introduce and use DNA evidence successfully in court, and that judges rule correctly on its admissibility during trials. Your ability to be successful as a homicide investigator will rely heavily on the actions of crime scene officers, prosecutors, and judges – so it’s critical that they, in addition to you, are well-schooled in DNA evidence techniques and admissibility.
We’re also working to expand the use of DNA to solve cases involving unidentified human remains. Later this month, we’ll bring together the first-ever working group of experts in the field to look at ways to close the gap between missing persons reports and the discovery of unidentified bodies.
As members of this group well know, the families of the missing frequently say that simply not knowing what happened to their loved one – whether he or she is alive or dead – is the most difficult aspect of their ordeal. As you also know, there is sometimes a disconnect between law enforcement and medical examiners in these cases. We’re looking at the intersection of the efforts of the MEs with yours, to avoid the possibility of the two disciplines working at cross-purposes, to the potential detriment of the case and increased pain for the victim’s family.
As part of this effort, we’re working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Bode Laboratories to use DNA to identify the bodies of missing children. For some years, we’ve provided significant funding to the National Center, which does tremendous work in seeking to return missing children to their families. Under this new initiative, Bode Labs has donated 600 DNA test kits that NCMEC is using to help requesting jurisdictions identify unidentified bodies of children. In July, this effort had its first successful identification.
The Kentucky Medical Examiner’s Office contacted NCMEC’s Special Case Unit for assistance in identifying the remains of an unknown male estimated to be between the ages of 17 and 20. The unidentified body had been found at the bottom of an abandoned well. It had been tied up and weighted down, and the ME estimated that the body had been in the well for between 5 and 10 years.
Locally examined records revealed that the body might be that of an 18-year-old man who’d been missing for more than six years. DNA samples from the body were matched with samples from the mother of the missing man and confirmed the identification. Police now have a suspect in this case and are proceeding with a homicide investigation. I’m sure that any of the NCMEC staff participating in this conference can tell you more about this important new effort we are undertaking together to identify missing children.
There’s one final component of the DNA initiative I want to mention. And it’s an important one. In order to make full use of the power of DNA technology, DNA samples should be collected from all convicted felons and added to the national DNA database.
Currently, only 29 states require DNA samples from all convicted felons. These states have much higher “hit rates” – matches of DNA evidence to profiles of convicted offenders in DNA databases – than other states that have more limited requirements.
For example, Virginia, which has been collecting DNA from all convicted felons since 1990, has a convicted offender database of more than 189,000 DNA profiles. As a result, they averaged 37 hits per month in 2002. Of the 1,070 hits Virginia had as of last March, approximately 82 percent would have been missed if its database were limited to only violent offenders, instead of all convicted felons.
Florida has had a similar experience. The fact is, many of the offenders matched with violent crime scene evidence are found to have only a burglary conviction on their record. So we need to make sure that all felony offenders are tested.
If your state isn’t currently collecting such data, I encourage you to work with your state legislators to pass legislation to expand your state’s DNA sample collection to include all convicted felons. And we’re working with Members of Congress to craft legislation that will enable us to include in the federal CODIS database all DNA samples that have been properly collected under the laws of all the states.
While the DNA initiative is designed to more effectively solve crimes, our national AMBER Alert initiative is designed to help prevent them. After all, the best thing we can do for our citizens is to prevent the tragedy of homicide, particularly those involving children.
Statistically, the number of children abducted by strangers is relatively small, and our most recent national data reflect that stranger abductions are actually on the decline. However, as you know, these cases raise tremendous fear among the American public – and even a single child’s victimization is one too many.
Last summer, as you’ll remember, a rash of abductions raised alarms throughout the country and increased our level of awareness about the terrible vulnerability of our nation’s children. From Jennifer Short in Virginia to Cassandra Williamson in St. Louis, to Elizabeth Smart in Salt Lake City to Danielle Van Dam in San Diego – week after week came story after story about another abduction, another family’s anguish, and, in all but Elizabeth’s miraculous case, another child murdered.
Even though stranger abductions are declining, there were more than 58,000 non-family abductions in the United States in 1999, the last year we measured. Fortunately, 99 percent of these children returned home. But 115 of the children were victims of what we call “stereotypical kidnapings,” perpetrated by a stranger or slight acquaintance of the child, in which the child was transported 50 or more miles, detained overnight, held for ransom or with intent to keep the child permanently, or killed. Of these children, tragically, 40% were killed, and another 4% were not recovered.
We also know from our research that 74 percent of all children killed by their abductor are killed within the first three hours of being taken – and 99 percent are murdered within 24 hours. That should not mean, however, that just because you don’t find children right away, you should assume they’re dead and reduce your recovery efforts.
As retired FBI agent – and member of your Advisory Board – Bill Hagmaier pointed out at our National AMBER Conference last month, you shouldn’t reduce your efforts on the third or fourth day, just because statistics would seem to indicate the chances of a safe recovery are slim. The case of Elizabeth Smart illustrates that there’s always a chance that the child is alive. But these data do point out the urgent need for an immediate, rapid, efficient, and effective response in these cases.
So it’s critical that each community develop a rapid-response system, that we eliminate geographic gaps in our AMBER Alert network, and that we put in place a seamless communications system to increase the likelihood that abducted children will be recovered swiftly and safely.
As I’m sure at least the U.S. members of this group know, AMBER Alerts are broadcast when law enforcement determines that a child has been abducted and is in imminent danger. The AMBER Alert system began in 1996 when Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters teamed with local police to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children. The plan was created as a legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnaped while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas, and then brutally murdered. Though still unsolved, this case remains under active investigation by Arlington police.
Following the creation of this initial AMBER program, other states and communities soon set up their own AMBER plans as the idea was adopted across the nation. But unless we connect all these efforts, and develop a seamless, nationwide AMBER Alert network, our children will not get the protection they need.
Last October, at the first-ever White House Conference on Missing Children, President Bush directed the Attorney General to appoint a National AMBER Alert Coordinator to coordinate AMBER Alert efforts and to expand the reach of state and local AMBER Alert systems through a nationwide network.
The President’s directive gave new momentum to this national initiative to provide an important safety net for abducted children across the country. In October 2001, there were only 27 AMBER Alert programs in this country, only 5 of which were statewide. At that time, the programs had assisted in recovering a total of 16 children.
Less than two years later, these numbers have grown dramatically. At last count, 93 jurisdictions throughout the country had AMBER Alert programs in place, including 46 statewide programs and 16 regional efforts. And last week, we announced the safe recovery of the 100th child recovered through AMBER Alerts – a 2-year-old boy in DeMotte, Indiana– and the number of successful recoveries keeps growing almost daily.
But to fully protect children, we’ve got to make sure that every state has an AMBER Alert plan in effect, and that every state has established protocols with its neighboring states for issuing regional AMBER Alerts in cases where abductors are suspected of crossing state lines. As the National AMBER Alert Coordinator, I’m working to meet these goals.
To assist in this effort, and to fulfill the President’s mandate, the Department of Justice has been working with an Advisory Group of experts in the field, including law enforcement, broadcast, highway safety, and other officials. Together, we’ve developed a national strategy to help states and communities strengthen the AMBER Alert system nationwide, and increase the likelihood that abducted children will be recovered swiftly and safely.
We’ve outlined the AMBER Alert National Strategy in a new brochure. We’ve provided copies for you, and we’ll disseminate the brochure through other venues, as well, to ensure that communities and citizens are aware of this national child safety initiative.
We began implementing our National Strategy by assessing current AMBER activity and learning from the experience of communities that already have AMBER Alert Systems in place. We’ve assessed AMBER Alert plans in operation, and the criteria the plans use for issuing an alert. And we’ve also met with technology experts to determine how technology can best assist in issuing AMBER Alerts, getting Alerts out to front line police officers in the field, and developing the seamless, nationwide AMBER Alert communications network we seek.
To build on these efforts, last month, we held the first-ever National Training Conference on AMBER Alert. We brought together teams of law enforcement, broadcasters, and highway safety personnel from all 50 states, the territories, and the District of Columbia to begin the planning and coordination needed to form the nationwide network.
To follow up on the conference, we’re working to develop comprehensive training and technical assistance to support AMBER Alert efforts at the state and local levels. We’re also planning a technology conference for later this year to share information with the state AMBER coordinators about the different technology options that are available to support AMBER Alert programs. Our technical staff already has looked at a number of proposals for technological support of the AMBER Alert system – everything from storing information for parents on a CD-ROM to an Internet-based alert system using cell phones, pagers, and personal computers.
We’re also working on an XML, or extensible markup language communication standard, to ensure that the different systems in the various states can communicate with each other across state lines. Our goal is to assist the states to improve and interlink their systems, while preserving your ability to develop whatever AMBER system best meets your unique needs.
And we created an AMBER Alert Web page featuring the latest information about the National AMBER Alert Strategy, publications about keeping children safe and preventing abductions, a list of state AMBER Alert coordinators and local contacts, resources for making AMBER programs work effectively, and information about training opportunities. The page can be accessed from the Office of Justice Programs’ Web site at www.ojp.usdoj.gov.
We see no reason why we cannot, working together, have a nationwide AMBER Alert network in place within a year that will help prevent child abduction and murder, and the terrible anguish suffered by the families of these victims, and save you from the grim task of investigating these cases.
The work you do is difficult – it is mentally and psychologically, as well as physically, exhausting, and it is also vitally important to the preservation of a civilized society. I hope you’ll let us know what more we at the Office of Justice Programs can do to support your critical work in solving these heinous crimes, and preventing them if we can – and to ensure that the victims of homicide are “never forgotten.” Thank you very much for the honor of addressing you today.