September 26, 2005 — RAINN launched its national Crime Fighter awards at a Seattle event honoring 12 state legislators who have led the fight to use DNA to catch and convict rapists. The honorees have all sponsored legislation that will expand DNA collection from criminals and enhance the value of the national DNA database.
Scott Berkowitz, RAINN's president and founder, presented the awards at a luncheon during the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislators. The event was sponsored by Applied Biosystems, the leading manufacturer of DNA testing equipment, and hosted by Smith Alling Lane, a legal and public affairs firm that advocates for the expanded use of DNA. Smith Alling Lane worked closely with RAINN in support of last year's landmark DNA legislation, the Debbie Smith Act. The Debbie Smith Act provides funding to states to analyze the backlog of DNA evidence from unsolved crimes. It is expected to solve as many as 200,00 open cases, nearly half of them rape cases.
In an emotional keynote address, Congressman David Reichert (R-WA) talked about the 20-year investigation of Washington state's Green River Killer, one of the most notorious and prolific mass murderers in American history. Rep. Reichert, then the sheriff of Kent County, led the investigation that resulted in the arrest of Gary Leon Ridgway, who pleaded guilty to 48 murders and has admitted to 23 more (some investigators believe his final tally was about 100 victims). DNA evidence identified Ridgway as the serial killer and led directly to his arrest. Reichert has gone on to be one of Congress' leading advocates for the value of DNA in criminal investigations.
In presenting the awards, Berkowitz talked about the importance of having a comprehensive database of DNA from criminals. "Having a DNA profile of an unidentified criminal is great — but only if we have a thorough database of DNA from criminals to which we can compare it and find a match. Without a robust offender index, a match will never be made, the crime will never be solved, and the criminal will be free to strike again," he said.
Thanks in many cases to the Crime Fighter award winners, 43 states now collect DNA from all convicted felons; five of these states also collect from felony arrestees, as is already standard procedure with fingerprints. Every single DNA profile added to state and national databases increases the odds of catching and convicting the next rapist — before he rapes again. Nationally, we're now seeing cold hit rates of around 30 percent. In states with the most comprehensive databases, the hit rate is already up to 40 percent and growing. In other words, 4 out of every 10 unsolved crimes can be solved by making use of the evidence that has already been collected, and the technology that already exists.
Because the extent of DNA collection is decided individually by states, it is crucial to have the support and leadership of committed legislators in each state.
Our communities are getting safer every day, thanks to the work of RAINN's first-ever Crime Fighter award winners.
The efforts of these seven legislators led to new laws that require the collection of DNA samples from all convicted felons:
Three legislators sponsored bills to require DNA from all convicted felons and are now working towards passage:
Two legislators have introduced bills to require DNA collection from all felony arrestees, and are now working towards passage: