Prosecutors and Crime Victim Advocates Applaud Preserving Positions at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner
City Hall-Council Speaker Quinn, along with Finance Chair Domenic M. Recchia, Jr., Health Chair Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Public Safety Chair Peter Vallone, Jr. and Women’s Issues Chair Julissa Ferreras announced the restoration of $730,000 in critical funding to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) that will preserve 12 positions in forensic biology and evidence. The Council restoration enables the OCME to continue supporting current DNA caseloads, which would have otherwise begun to experience a backlog of untested cases and potentially dangerous and unacceptable delay of results. The restorations will be approved at today’s stated Council meeting as part of the City’s First Quarter Budget Modification.
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. The OCME tests forensic evidence gathered from a wide range of serious felonies, such as homicides and sexual assaults, to all crime types, including robberies and burglaries. In 2003, New York City successfully eliminated its DNA testing backlog, which has since garnered national recognition as a best practice. Subsequently, and more importantly, the City’s arrest rate has since jumped from 40 percent to 70 percent.
“The Council understands we must do everything in our power to protect public safety,” said Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “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. I want to thank my colleagues for taking this stand to advance the progress achieved by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.”
“No budget cut should put our city at risk. Restoring critical funds to the Office of the Medical Examiner’s forensic and DNA analysis unit provides the tools integral to fighting crime and to keeping predators off our streets. It is imperative that our city have the necessary staff in place to make sure public safety remains our top priority,” said Council Finance Committee Chair, Domenic M. Recchia Jr.
”I want to thank Speaker Quinn and my Council colleagues for working collaboratively to restore funds that will preserve positions at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, said Council Health Committee Chair, Maria del Carmen Arroyo. This important funding will preserve OCME’s DNA testing capacity, which is critical in protecting New Yorkers throughout the five boroughs.”
“If one aspect of the criminal investigation process is slowed due to lack of funding, the safety of the public suffers. This important restoration will allow perpetrators to be brought to justice sooner rather than later,” said Council Public Safety Chair Peter Vallone, Jr.
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, the Mayor once again asked the OCME to make sacrifices; however, this time around, the OCME was simply unable to absorb a further reduction in headcount without adversely impacting its DNA testing services and the City’s crime fighting efforts.
With the proposed budget reductions DNA testing submissions would have required an additional review process which inherently creates delays. Some categories of testing could have been relegated to a non-priority status, such as non-stranger rape kits. Studies have shown 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.
The Chair of the Council’s Committee on Women’s Issues, Council Member Julissa Ferreras stated, “I am gratified that the City Council was able to restore these funds to the OCME and preserve the positions of those performing important DNA analysis, including the testing of rape kits. This action 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.”
“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,” said Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown.
“As the old legal maxim goes – ‘Justice delayed is justice denied.’ And the money the Council is restoring to the OCME budget will literally help to ensure justice is not delayed by staving off cuts to staff who perform tests and analyses that provide critical and timely evidence for our most serious criminal cases,” said Staten Island District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan Jr.
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes said, “I applaud the City Council’s work to restore these funds to preserve positions at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. This funding will allow OCME to continue to swiftly perform the critical scientific tests that provide evidence to my office in a variety of violent crimes. No predator should be allowed to walk the streets because of budget cuts.”
“The entire criminal justice community has come to rely upon DNA testing. The services provided by OCME are fundamental to the public safety of the citizens of Bronx County and the City of New York as a whole. Staffing reductions would affect both the timeliness and the type of services currently offered by the forensic biology laboratory. This will directly impact our ability to conduct thorough criminal investigations and prosecutions,” said Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. said, “OCME’s contribution to the criminal justice system is invaluable. OCME uses sophisticated DNA technology to provide information for law enforcement in New York City and other boroughs. DNA is one of the most powerful tools we have to solve crime, prevent crime, and exonerate the innocent. DNA technology has helped us solve cases that are decades old and bring justice to crime victims. It is relief to know that OCME can continue its important work.”
Mary Haviland, Executive Director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault stated: “The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault is very pleased that the New York City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, is taking a proactive approach to combatting sexual assault by restoring funding for DNA processing to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME). Sexual assault victims city-wide rely on professional forensic examiners in hospital emergency rooms to care for their health in the aftermath of an assault and to gather important evidence of the crime with a Forensic Rape Kit. The cuts in funding to the OCME’s office would have disrupted the processing of this evidence, resulting in back logs and unprocessed cases. This evidence is a crucial component to the prosecution and conviction of perpetrators of sexual assault and long-term, to the safety of New Yorkers. We applaud the restoration of these funds so that this work can continue uninterrupted on behalf of victims of sexual assault city-wide.”
“On behalf of crime victims and the victim advocate community I applaud the City Council and the Speaker for restoring the much needed funds for the OCME’s forensic and DNA analysis unit. They are invaluable in fighting crime,” said Susan Xenarios, Director of the Crime Victims Treatment Center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center. “In the last decade DNA technology has made a major impact on the investigation and prosecution of all crimes and especially homicide and crimes of sexual violence. This restoration which supports 12 expert forensic DNA analysts can be nothing but good for all New Yorkers. We are grateful to the City Council for that.”
The City Council strongly urges the Mayor and his administration to commit to preserving DNA analysis by restoring these funds in his Preliminary Budget for Fiscal Year 2013 and beyond. Failure to do so will put New York City’s public safety at risk.