- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2003

D.C. police are being deprived of a vital tool for solving killings, rapes and other crimes because a critical agreement with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, authorizing the hiring of a team of forensic scientists, has yet to be signed.

The program formalized in a memorandum of understanding would allow city employees to receive FBI training and use the facilities and equipment of the bureau’s state-of-the-art Quantico, Va., laboratory for analyzing evidence.

But D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams has yet to sign off on the program that the D.C. Council funded for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. City officials say even without the mayor’s signature, the program is on track.

“We’re moving forward as if it has been signed,” said Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, deputy mayor for public safety and justice. “Our goal is to ensure that there are dedicated resources in the FBI laboratory for whom D.C. is the No. 1 priority.”

But D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, said the city is dragging its feet in implementing the program. She said that the mayor has had the memorandum of understanding for at least six months and that the council appropriated the money more than a month ago to hire the personnel.

The result is investigators, already struggling to solve crimes, are down a valuable resource.

“Our use of DNA tests is very limited because we don’t have our own capacity,” Mrs. Patterson said. “We only turn to the FBI to confirm the guilt of someone. We don’t use DNA like other jurisdictions to identify criminal suspects.”

DNA, the chemical that embodies a person’s genetic programming, can be found almost everywhere. Criminals often leave blood when breaking and entering, they leave saliva behind on drinking glasses and they leave sweat stains in clothing. Enough DNA can be extracted from just a few cells found on such sources to identify the culprit.

Under D.C. law, criminals convicted of nearly all crimes of a violent or sexual nature have to provide a DNA sample for entry into the FBI’s national DNA database. The database is used to cross-check samples discovered at crime scenes against those of known criminals.

Mrs. Patterson said the only reason there isn’t a tremendous backlog for testing crime-scene evidence is because, up to now, the District hasn’t tested it.

“It’s not an issue because it’s not getting done,” she said. “If we did all the tests that could be done, there would be a great backlog.”

Currently, the Metropolitan Police Department has facilities for analyzing ballistics evidence and fingerprints. But more complicated tests, such as DNA evidence, fibers and blood-spatter analysis, are forwarded to the FBI, if a suspect is identified and cases are pending.

The FBI laboratory also analyzes evidence from any jurisdiction that requests tests, including foreign governments. The lab analyzed evidence from the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the 2000 USS Cole bombing, the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in eastern Africa, the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, and others.

“By far, D.C. is our biggest customer,” said Paul Bresson, an FBI spokesman. “Roughly 25 percent of our caseload is evidence in support of [Metropolitan Police Department] cases.”

Mr. Bresson said the bureau shifted its priorities after September 11 from criminal investigations to antiterrorism efforts and agreed to allow the District the use of the equipment and facilities at the FBI’s state-of-the-art $130 million forensic laboratory in Quantico, which opened in April.

The council appropriated $800,000 in this year’s budget to hire two serology and trace-evidence technicians, three DNA technicians and three DNA examiners. The FBI agreed to train the forensic scientists hired by the District.

“We felt the agreement was necessary,” Mr. Bresson said.

Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said the FBI has begun vetting applications for the analyst positions, and he expects technicians to complete training between 18 months and two years from the time they are hired.

Chief Ramsey praised the working relationship the District has with the FBI, but said the lack of forensic-testing capabilities dedicated to the District is “not an ideal situation.”

“When something happens almost anywhere in the world, we get bumped back,” he said.


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