- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2006

D.C. officials yesterday asked for more than $94 million in federal funds over the next three years to establish a state-of-the-art crime laboratory in the District.

The District does not have its own crime lab. Forensic evidence from the city is sent for processing to the FBI’s crime lab, which is on the grounds of the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Va.

“To support our crime-fighting efforts, the District needs its own dedicated crime laboratory,” Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey testified yesterday before the House Committee on Government Reform. “We need a laboratory that is capable of taking full advantage of the latest in DNA and other forensic technologies.”

The hearing was led by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Committee on Government Reform.

The District has a backlog of DNA evidence waiting to be processed on more than 1,500 sexual assault cases and a violent crimes backlog expected to grow 100 to 200 cases per year, officials said.

Evidence processing at the FBI lab is sluggish because federal cases are given priority.

The District is allowed to use the FBI’s lab and supplies for free but is required to provide its own personnel.

FBI officials estimated that about 30 percent of the cases the Quantico lab processes each year are from the District. They said their increased caseload since September 11 has made it difficult to move District evidence through quickly.

“Since September 11 the mission of the FBI Laboratory has focused primarily upon providing forensic services to support counter-terrorism,” said Joseph A. DiZinno, director of the FBI laboratory. “The support to [Metropolitan Police Department] investigations can continue, but not at the priority level previously received.”

The new lab would cost about $253 million, said Edward D. Reiskin, D.C. deputy mayor for public safety and justice and the interim city administrator.

It would include forensic and DNA testing functions, the city morgue, the D.C. Department of Health and a bio-safety laboratory for homeland security threats.

Because the District does not have its own crime lab, it cannot enter DNA evidence into a national or city database, which cross-references samples and can help catch repeat offenders.

“A forensics lab of one’s own for a city with a chronically high crime rate is a no-brainer,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat. “The forensics lab may be the key to further reduction in violent crime in the District.”

Chief Ramsey said eliminating the forensic case backlog could be key in lowering the city’s crime rate.

“If we can clear up this backlog maybe we can put some people away and close some of these cases,” he said.

The D.C. Council has so far dedicated about $10 million for the project and $13 million in federal funding.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams also has proposed $75 million in the fiscal year 2008 and 2009 budgets. The remaining city dollars likely would come from a series of bonds.

The lab is scheduled to be completed by late 2009.

Mr. Davis and Mrs. Norton said yesterday they are not aware of any opposition to the federal government giving the District money for a crime lab. However, Mr. Davis cautioned that there might be objections in the future.

“It’s money; people always object,” he said. “We’re going to do the best we can to push this through as fast as we can.”

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