GOVERNOR PATRICK HIGHLIGHTS PROGRESS AT STATE CRIME LAB AND MEDICAL EXAMINER OPERATIONS
Once Struggling Agencies Becoming Models for Success
BOSTON- Thursday, May 22, 2008- Speaking before a gathering of District Attorneys and prosecutors, Governor Deval Patrick today highlighted significant improvement within the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), two critical public safety agencies that had been plagued by funding and capacity issues in recent years. The Governor told the District Attorneys they've been crucial partners in the fight for more resources that improve the management and science that is so important to the cases they consider for prosecution.
"We have made significant progress in a short time, and I thank all levels of law enforcement and our prosecutors for their partnership in that effort," Governor Patrick said while addressing the 14th Annual Massachusetts Prosecutors Conference this morning. "We have taken a broad approach of prevention, intervention and enforcement to fight crime and serve justice, and I look forward to continuing our work into the future."
Through the implementation of many of the recommendations in the Vance Report -- a review of the Crime Lab and OCME ordered last year by Secretary of Public Safety and Security Kevin Burke -- and improvements in operational efficiency and effectiveness, significant progress has been made at these agencies.
"As a result of this working partnership the ability to solve and prosecute crime on a timely basis has been greatly improved," said Secretary Burke. "In addition, we are now poised to move to the next level of forensic services which will continue to allow us to deliver the highest quality of criminal justice."
"This is a situation that will take a number of years to repair, but we are on the right path, and we're making tremendous progress," said Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe, who is also President of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association (MDAA). "It is important that we stay on that path, and we have a commitment from the Governor and from Secretary Burke to do that. I hope we can continue to give the kind of positive news about those two important entities that we have today."
State Police Crime Lab Progress
With help from increased staffing, the performance of dedicated scientists and other employees at the Crime Lab continues to become more efficient and successful. The Administration invested the necessary resources to ensure facilities throughout Massachusetts serve the entire Commonwealth with high-quality science; opening new facilities in Lakeville and Springfield, while renovating the facility in Danvers. Highlights of progress include:
- With the vital assistance of prosecutors across the state, 18,000 DNA samples in cold storage have been sifted through and prioritized resulting in a priority list of just 500 cases needing further action.
- In the last quarter of the 2006 calendar year, the crime lab completed processing on just over 100 DNA cases. In the first quarter of 2008, that number was up to 330 cases, with the average turnaround time down from a peak of 154 days in early 2007 to 60 days now. Just this past March, our DNA unit completed a record 117 cases.
- Looking at just April of this year, the work of our Crime Lab was instrumental in using DNA evidence to solicit a guilty plea in a case involving three killings in the Springfield area, in quick arrests in a firebombing on the Cape, and in the identification of a possible serial killer.
- The Crime lab has begun a project of processing all pre-1999 sexual assault kits where the underlying offense fell within the statute of limitations. Over the past 10 months, we have processed 33% of those previously untouched cases and expect to complete the project in the next 18 months.
- The Drug Unit last March reported out 723 cases with an average turnaround time of 29 days. That turnaround time is 75% faster than in December of 2006. The caseload there has been cut by more than 1600 cases in that same time period, reaching the highest ratio of completed cases to cumulative backlog ever achieved.
- The lab has entered more than 35,574 DNA profiles into the national offender database over the past year, generating more than 224 "cold hits" in this fiscal year alone.
Office of the Chief Medical Examiner Progress
In March of 2007 a host of management and operational failures were exposed at the OCME. The problems included the wrongful release and burial of a misidentified body; failed building infrastructure, including poor air quality systems and waste collection systems; cooler units that were unreliable and, a backlog of bodies pending release. Corrective action included:
- The appointment of a group of seasoned managers within the Executive Office of Public Safety to a Management Review Team to outline and implement changes needed at the OCME.
- Since then, the OCME has established a formal management structure and has displayed marked improvement. For example, the OCME at one time stored 112 bodies in a space with the capacity to hold 75. Last week, that number was down to 25, and the agency has scaled up capacity to now hold as many as 125 if needed.
The Patrick Administration's commitment to the crime lab and the Medical Examiner's Office are part of a comprehensive strategy for fighting crime that focuses on prevention, intervention and enforcement. These efforts also include funding increases for community policing and anti-gang and anti-violence programs that aim to help at-risk kids and crackdown on gun violence.