SPRINGFIELD - As Illinois tries to improve its use of DNA in investigations, one state lawmaker says the state should make better use of funding already available, especially in missing-persons cases.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich proposed in his budget address earlier this month $16.7 million in funding for DNA casework, including the creation of a DNA institute. The state police would use the institute to aid investigations and reduce its backlog in DNA testing.
The institute would cost $1.5 million to $2 million per year in scholarships for new forensic scientists after an initial cost in its first year of about $2.8 million in scholarships and expanded lab space.
State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said he is concerned about how the institute is going to be funded and if it will help identify missing people. Before investing state funds, Brady wants to make sure other methods of funding have been explored.
Illinois has received more than $2.75 million in grants under President Bush's initiative, the Justice for All Act of 2004, but Brady said he is concerned that isn't enough. He said the backlog hasn't improved and wants to use more of the federal money available.
The president's initiative made more than $1 billion available to states to improve the use of DNA in the criminal justice system.
"We can do better, and the funding is there," said Brady, noting that the funding already received might not be spread throughout the state.
The state police say the backlog is improving. The average time it takes to process a DNA sample was 52 days as of the end of January. It had been as high as 10 months in 2003.
"We are on track to be back down to the ideal 30 days or less this summer," said Lincoln Hampton, a state police spokesman.
When the DNA institute opens, state police officials hope it can eliminate reliance on outside labs in analyzing DNA.
Brady, who is a former coroner, wants to make missing people cases easier to solve, but he is afraid the institute may take a while to start as funding issues are resolved. Illinois did not receive any of about $14 million in federal money given to states in 2005 to help identify long-unidentified human remains.
"Probably it's going to take a lot longer to get up and going with something like (the institute) when the appropriations are very questionable to begin with," Brady said. "It's going to take a lot longer to get something like this up and going, if it ever does, versus the $14 million we already lost out on in 2005."
The DNA institute would let state police make better use of DNA to aid in such cases, state police officials said. States only have recently begun to conduct DNA analysis on human remains and submit the results to the FBI and develop their own databases.
"The DNA institute will only assist in those cases requiring DNA to match or identify a subject," Hampton said. "If there are missing-persons cases and DNA evidence is available, we will have the expert staff in place to test the evidence more quickly and look for a potential match in our database."
But family members in missing-persons cases don't always know they can submit DNA samples to aid in finding their loved ones.
In one case, the mother of missing University of Illinois student Ryan Katcher didn't submit her DNA until 4½ years after his disappearance. Linda Katcher Griffith of Oakwood said her DNA was the only lead in Ryan Katcher's disappearance.
"Being able to find a link to families is what I hope for," said Griffith, noting that authorities are realizing the importance of DNA in identifying missing remains after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina.
"I hope we can help other moms by establishing standard procedures to follow," Kather Griffith said.
So Brady has proposed House Bill 4203, which would require law enforcement officials to notify families whose loved one has been missing for more than 30 days that they can submit DNA. The DNA then would be used in state and national databases to identify bodies if they are found.
"If you can't get this stuff entered into the databases, you're never going to make the hit, the connection of who those bones may belong to, who they are," Brady said.
As of Feb. 1, more than 1,000 adults were reported missing in Illinois, while there are more than 50,000 unidentified human remains across the country, Brady said.