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Governor O’Malley Testifies on Proposal to Improve Public Safety

Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, thank you very, very much for the opportunity to be with all of you today on a piece of legislation that is one of the probably most important pieces of our legislative initiative that the O’Malley/Brown administration has brought before you.

And it has to do with the challenge that our State confronts where violent crime is concerned.  We are the fourth most violent State in the Union and there’s really no good reason for it.  We all need to fight back against violent crime and our State needs to become a much stronger and forward leaning partner with our local law enforcement.  It is not local law enforcement by themselves or even the counties, towns, municipal law enforcement by themselves, but rather all of us together.

And to that end, we ask you to consider the administration’s proposal to move to the next generation of  what I like to refer to as the modern day next generation of fingerprint — that is, taking DNA swabs, a very uninvasive procedure, taken from the inside of a person’s cheek, that are involved in our criminal justice system.

I am grateful to you, Chairman Frosh, for your courtesy in hearing from this panel and I believe you’re hearing from others that will focus in on — we just came from across the street and a lot of the members over there wanted to ask us a lot of  scientific questions, which made for good entertainment, but not for great answers.  So, you know, there will be a scientific panel following us that can better engage in some of those CSI Miami or other questions on this.

I am joined by Attorney General Gansler, as well as the Superintendent of State Police Terry Sheridan, and Mr. Abbott, who works on the gang prosecutions out of the Attorney General’s office, as well as others.

Today we urge your support for legislation that is supported by virtually every police chief in the State of Maryland.  It is also supported by virtually every State’s Attorney in the State of Maryland.

And why is that?  Because when we increase the library of DNA samples in our State against which evidence can be matched from the scenes of crimes, we solve more crimes.  We take more people off the streets more quickly and put them in jail for longer period of time so that they cannot murder, rape or harm other citizens among us.  That, in essence, is what we are asking for you to do under this bill.

We have so many — if you look at so many of the tragedies that happen in our State, whether they’re murders or rapes or other violent crimes.  So often when you go through the background of the person who perpetrated these crimes you see missed opportunity after missed opportunity.

Here in Maryland these trends have been no different.  While 11 other States have moved forward, by taking DNA samples from those arrested of certain classes of Felonies — mostly violent Felonies — we have yet to join those States.

One of whom who is already there is the State of Virginia, where they learned that approximately 40 percent of its violent crimes that they were solving were actually perpetrated by those who previously had had property crime involvement, mainly the burglaries, which we have added to the list, our wish list to you, as we try to come in to join Virginia and the standing criteria that they use.

Let me give you one case, please, as I take my seat.  And that is the case of  Leon Copeland, a career criminal.  He had been arrested 16 times since 1976.  Under the proposed legislation, DNA could have been collected at the time of those 10 arrests; arrests for alleged robberies and sex crimes — all in his past.  Baltimore County charged him with a murder and a rape in 2000 and another rape in 2004 — all crimes dating back from 1986.  It seems that Mr. Copeland may have left his DNA at the scenes of these crimes allegedly committed 20 years ago.

Sadly, since those heinous crimes were committed  Leon Copeland was arrested for assault with intent to murder in 1986; that was missed opportunity number one.  Arrested for robbery; that was missed opportunity number two.  Arrested again for rape and robbery; missed opportunity number three.  Arrested for first degree sex offense; missed opportunity four.  And then Copeland was arrested for robbery with a deadly weapon; missed opportunity five.

Under the proposed legislation, law enforcement would have been able to have obtained  a match from those crime scenes using DNA samples collected from Copeland on any one of those missed opportunities and, thereby, would have been able to prevent the crimes that he otherwise would have — that he did, in fact, commit, because he was still out on the street.

Had we been able to take DNA fingerprint at the time of these five arrests, we would have been able to charge him with murder and rape years earlier, preventing others from being murdered and raped in the future.

We have tremendous potential as a State, we have a long way to go and we have already come a long way.

Mr. Chairman, last year we were able to eliminate our State’s DNA backlog of some 24,300 persons, from whom those DNA fingerprints should have already been taken.  That’s just in one year — 24,300.

We were also able to  increase the number of hits, that is matching the evidence from crime scenes against that larger universe of DNA fingerprints, if you will.  WE were able to increase those hits by 51 percent.  And if any of us — if we were able to spare just one person from being murdered or raped because of that, it would be very difficult to put a price tag on this.

I ask you as we consider this and try to hone in on the actual cost of this to keep a couple of things in mind.  It is hard to actually pin the tail on what the actual cost of this is ultimately going to be — somewhere between $1.3 million to $2.6 million.  But I would submit to you that that is a fraction of what just one major city spends on police overtime alone in the course of a year.  It is a fraction of what we spend at the Department of Corrections in an entire year, a fraction of what any County law enforcement agency spends.

And for us not to be able to do a better job with the technology, the evidence and the science that’s available to us, to save lives, I think is an opportunity that we cannot allow to pass us by.

Every day that we fail to upgrade our ability to collect DNA fingerprints and be able to match up evidence and solve crimes, is another day when Marylanders are unnecessarily made vulnerable to repeat violent offenders again — and again and again.

And I urge your favorable consideration of this bill.  Thank you.

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