2012-01-11 / Features

City Council Restores $730,000 For DNA Testing

BY JOHN TOSCANO

Faced with the possibility of an interruption of DNA testing by the city’s Medical Examiners office because of a shortage of funds, the City Council last week passed a budget amendment restoring $730,000 in funding for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME).

The funding will preserve 12 positions in forensic biology and evidence enabling OCME to continue supporting current DNA caseloads, which would have otherwise begun to experience a backlog of untested criminal cases awaiting court action.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s office said these highly specialized staff positions are responsible for performing DNA analysis—an important tool frequently utilized by the city’s law enforcement and court system.

Quinn explained that the OCME tests forensic evidence gathered from a wide range of serious felonies, such as homicides, sexual assaults and robberies.

She stated, “The restoration of these funds is a vital step in protecting New Yorkers and will allow prosecutors to do their important work with speed and efficiency.”

Quinn added, “The council understands we must do everything in our power to protect public safety.”

Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. (D–Astoria), chairman of the Public Safety Committee, stated: “If one aspect of the criminal investigation process is slowed due to lack of funding, the safety of the public safety suffers. This important restoration will allow perpetrators to be brought to justice sooner rather than later.”

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown declared, “The DNA lab plays a vital role in our ability to effectively solve and prosecute some of the city’s most serious crimes. Restoration of funding to the lab will unquestionably enhance public safety.”

Also commenting on the council’s action was Councilmember Julissa Ferreras (D–Corona), the chair of the Committee on Women’s Issues. Ferreras noting that the OCME’s office also tests rape kits which contain evidence from rape crimes, stated:

“This action (approving the additional funding) will help safeguard the welfare of New Yorkers, and women in particular, by preserving crucial evidence that will facilitate the prosecution of sexual assaults and violent crimes.”

Quinn explained that over the past few years, evidence submissions to OCME have increased, while consecutive rounds of budget cuts have reduced staff dedicated to DNA testing by 31 percent.

This past November, she added, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office once again asked the OCME to make sacrifices, but this time around, the OCME was simply unable to absorb a further reduction.

The proposed budget reductions, Quinn said, the DNA testing submissions would have required an additional review process which inherently creates delays. Studies have shown, she said, that any delay in testing keeps more predators out of jail and on the streets, and failing to test all evidence submissions increases the risk that a repeat offender will strike again.

Bloomberg must now approve the city council’s proposed restoration of budget funds.

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