Thanks to reporter Del Quentin Wilber for highlighting the D.C. police department's DNA evidence backlog problem and the department's efforts to address it [Metro, June 27].
As the officer overseeing the department's review of old homicide and sexual assault cases, as well as a 21-year District resident, I take pride in the city's multi-agency approach to the problem. But despite these efforts, the District will never be in a position to take advantage fully of modern DNA technology without a local forensic and bioterrorism laboratory.
The services offered to the D.C. police by the FBI laboratory are second to none, but because the FBI has its own caseload and priorities, the District has been unable to benefit from the millions of dollars in federal grants offered to other local law enforcement agencies to reduce backlogs and enter the resulting suspect profiles in the national DNA database. These limitations have even prevented the District from using its own funds, when available, to reduce its DNA evidence backlog.
The nation's capital sadly is far outpaced in this area by other American cities.
In 1999 New York City used its municipal lab and local and federal grant funds to perform a massive DNA backlog-reduction effort, testing more than 16,000 backlogged rape kits, including evidence from "closed" cases and those in which the statute of limitations had expired. As a result, New York discovered several serial sex offenders and linked "cold" cases to current investigations. Former defendants also were exonerated after being convicted of crimes they did not commit. If the District had its own lab, a similar program could be implemented here.
Money is the issue. Where cities and counties across the country look to states for financial aid to construct labs and reduce their backlogs, the District does not have that luxury. Instead, Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the D.C. Council have asked Congress for $9 million in fiscal 2005 for this critical project.
If Congress is serious about fighting crime and ensuring justice in the nation's capital, it should provide the District with funds for a local lab.
The writer, a detective with the Metropolitan Police Department's Violent Crime Branch , directs the department's Violent Crime Case Review Project.