For Immediate Release: February 22, 2012
Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III and New York’s
Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Elizabeth Glazer join with police chiefs
from throughout Erie County to support Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s
proposal to expand New York’s DNA Databank
Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard, Niagara County District Attorney Michael Violante
and crime victim advocates also discuss how expansion will better protect New Yorkers
Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III, New York’s Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Elizabeth Glazer, and State Senator Patrick M. Gallivan today joined with police chiefs from across Erie County – as well as Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard, Niagara County District Attorney Michael J. Violante and crime victim advocates – to show support for Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal to expand the state’s DNA Databank, which will help solve more crimes, bring justice to victims and exonerate innocent New Yorkers.
District Attorney Sedita and Deputy Secretary Glazer were joined at a press conference in Buffalo by Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda and his colleagues throughout the county: Amherst Police Chief John C. Askey, Buffalo State College Police Chief Peter Carey, Cheektowaga Police Chief David J. Zack, City of Tonawanda Police Chief John F. Ivancic, Depew Police Chief Stan Carwile, Erie County District Attorney’s Office Senior Chief Investigator John Cleary, Erie County District Attorney’s Office Chief Investigator Joseph Riga, Evans Police Chief Ernest P. Masullo, Town of Hamburg Police Chief Michael Williams, Kenmore Police Chief Carl J. LaCorte, New York State Police Captain Steve Nigrelli, Orchard Park Police Chief Andrew D. Benz, Town of Tonawanda Police Chief Anthony Palombo, University of Buffalo Police Chief Gerald Schoenle and West Seneca Police Chief Edward F. Gehen.
District Attorney Sedita said: “We have a tool that can solve hundreds of unsolved cases and bring hundreds of criminals, who thought they got away with it, to justice each year. And we have a tool that can exonerate those who have been wrongfully convicted. That tool is called DNA. DNA solves crimes, and when would-be robbers, rapists and murderers know their DNA profile is in the DNA Databank, DNA also prevents crimes. It is for these reasons that I and my fellow colleagues in law enforcement today call for the passage of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s all-crimes DNA proposal.”
The Databank was created in 1996. Since that time, DNA evidence has helped prosecutors solve more than 2,700 crimes, including nearly 150 in Erie County, and has helped exonerate 27 New Yorkers, three of them from Erie County.
Deputy Secretary Glazer said: “Every day we wait to expand the state’s DNA Databank, another cold case goes unresolved, a person wrongly convicted sits in prison, and we risk one of our loved ones falling victim to a crime that could have been prevented. How do we know this? Because we have evidence that shows every time we expanded the Databank, we solved more crimes. It’s just that simple.”
New York State has yet to realize the full potential of the DNA Databank because state law only permits DNA to be collected from 48 percent of offenders convicted of a Penal Law crime. Currently, anyone convicted of a felony or one of 36 misdemeanors under the Penal Law must provide a DNA sample.
The Governor’s proposal would require DNA samples to be collected from anyone convicted of all remaining Penal Law misdemeanors and any felony under other state laws, such as felony driving while intoxicated under the Vehicle and Traffic Law, aggravated animal cruelty under the Agriculture and Markets Law, and prescription drug offenses under the Public Health Law.
The last expansion in 2006, which made some low-level misdemeanors DNA-eligible, showed that criminals do not specialize. Today’s low-level offender is often yesterday’s violent felon:
- DNA samples taken from individuals convicted of the misdemeanor crime of petit larceny have been linked to 965 crimes, including 51 murders, 222 sexual assaults, 117 robberies, and 407 burglaries.
- And DNA samples taken from individuals convicted of second-degree criminal trespass have been linked to 30 homicides, 110 sexual assaults and 121 burglaries, among other crimes.
District Attorney Violante said: “I am in favor of any measure that assists law enforcement and the prosecution of criminals. DNA has become a valuable tool in determining the identity of criminals and passing legislation that facilitates the gathering of DNA from all defendants convicted of a crime will aid us in catching the bad guys and putting them in jail.”
Added Sheriff Howard: “There are countless instances where we have used the powerful tool of DNA in helping us solve crimes. We need not look any further than our own backyard with the high-profile case of the elusive bike path rapist, in which we used the suspect’s DNA to help seal a conviction. Also, not only will the proposed expansion of the DNA Databank be of tremendous benefit to law enforcement agencies, but just as importantly, it will be of great benefit to the communities they serve.”
Commissioner Derenda said: “I believe the Governor’s push to expand the use of DNA is an important crime-fighting measure, especially when it involves repeat offenders. Too many times, a small number of criminals are committing a large number of the crimes.”
Added Cheektowaga Chief Zack: “DNA evidence has played a significant role in the solving of some of our most serious crimes. Two recent homicides in our community may have gone unsolved had the perpetrators not had samples in the current Databank. Its expansion will undoubtedly bring even more offenders to justice. What is sometimes forgotten, however, is how many times DNA has exonerated the innocent. Expansion of the Databank will make our communities safer and help ensure that our criminal justice system works equitably for all. I fully support Governor Cuomo’s efforts to expand the New York State DNA Databank.”
Orchard Park Chief Benz said: “I fully support the expansion of New York State’s DNA Databank. I believe it is important that our police officers and detectives have the most comprehensive resources available to investigate and solve crimes. The DNA Databank has proven, time and again, that it is an invaluable tool for solving crimes and likely preventing others. Expanding the Databank can only serve to enhance our abilities to solve crimes.”
Just recently, two burglaries in the city of Tonawanda – one of a restaurant and the other of a residence – were solved because of DNA evidence, according to Chief Ivancic.
“There was little to no physical evidence at the home, but it was clear the suspect gained entry through a window in the kitchen. The screen window was swabbed, and trace DNA was identified by the lab on several sides of the screen. When the DNA was compared to the Databank, a match was made to an individual who had a previous burglary conviction,” Chief Ivancic said.
Added University at Buffalo Chief Schoenle: “DNA evidence truly is the ‘fingerprint of the 21st century,’ and while it is helpful in all investigations, it is exceptionally valuable in solving crimes against women. It has the ability to identify rapists and exonerate innocent suspects. But the use of DNA evidence has not kept pace with its potential, this proposal to expand New York State’s DNA Databank can result in hundreds of sex offenders being brought to justice and preventing thousands of offenses.”
West Seneca Chief Edward F. Gehen said: “I fully support the Governor’s proposed expansion of the DNA Databank. Law enforcement is tasked with the safety of all residents we serve. The expansion of the DNA Databank will provide our investigators with additional resources to solve crimes, prevent future crimes and increase the safety of our residents. We must utilize all the tools available to us to increase our efficiency and deal more effectively with those who commit crimes.”
Data from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) shows that offenders linked to crimes through the DNA Databank had three prior convictions for non-DNA eligible offenses before they were convicted of offenses that required DNA samples. Many low-level, non-DNA eligible misdemeanors are precursors to violent crime:
- 27 percent of individuals convicted of unauthorized use of a vehicle are subsequently arrested for a violent felony offense within five years of the misdemeanor conviction.
- 21 percent of individuals convicted of three other misdemeanors – third-degree criminal trespass, fourth-degree criminal mischief and theft of services – also are subsequently arrested for a violent felony offense within five years of being convicted of one of those crimes.
Robyn Wiktorski-Reynolds, advocate program coordinator with Crisis Services, said: “The trauma associated with sexual and domestic violence is immeasurable. As a victim advocate in a county that sees some of the highest numbers of reported forcible rapes in the state, we look forward to this proposal, which has the potential, if done alongside other coordinated efforts, to provide strategic prevention of these crimes.”
Added Tina M. Stanford, director of the New York State Office of Victim Services (OVS): “There are nearly 40,000 unresolved crimes in New York State – including rapes and murders that have gone unsolved for years. There are also thousands of survivors who worry every day because their attackers are still at large, free to commit more crimes and often doing so. Expanding the state’s DNA Databank is our opportunity to make an immediate difference in the lives of thousands of crime victims and prevent thousands more New Yorkers from ever becoming victims.”
Taking a DNA sample is not an invasive process: convicted offenders rub the inside of their cheek with a swab. The New York State Police Forensic Investigation Center then converts that material into a numerical profile, specifically unique to that offender. The profile is only used to match convicted offenders to evidence found at a crime scene, and link crimes that may involve the same perpetrator. The profile cannot be used for any other purpose and cannot identify anything about a person’s race, appearance, health or behavior.
The process in which DNA profiles are uploaded, tested and matched to convicted offenders ensures that nothing, other than science, affects the outcome of a match. Names, photographs or criminal history records that correspond to the DNA profiles are not maintained in the Databank, and DCJS, the agency confirming the identity once a match has been made, does not have access to the DNA profiles maintained in the Databank. Also, once a DNA match has been made, confirmatory testing is done to ensure its accuracy before local labs and law enforcement personnel are notified.
The New York State Police Forensic Investigation Center in Albany can process 10,000 DNA samples from convicted offenders a month. The Governor’s proposed expansion will bring the monthly total to less than 7,000 and will not create a backlog.
If enacted, the Governor’ proposal would take effect Oct. 1, 2012, and it would not be retroactive. In addition, the proposal would not apply to children involved in Family Court matters or to youthful offenders.
New York State has launched an interactive website as part of the Governor’s campaign to build a new New York and keep residents informed about key state initiatives. For more information, visit www.NYGetInvolved.com and join the #DNAStopsCrime conversation.