Bill Richardson: DPS has characterized its failure in the Olivas case as a miscommunication. Initially, the agency blamed Chandler police for Olivas being free. Then it was the corrections department's fault for not telling DPS he was being released. When I asked if anyone at DPS would be held accountable, Warriner responded, "DPS has established criteria to determine which cases receive priority analysis verses lower-priority analysis because of budgetary and manpower constraints." There's thousands of untested DNA samples.
"Maybe we could have done it sooner; unfortunately we missedhim by one month."
- Lt. Jim Warriner, spokesman, Arizona Department of Public Safety
Lt. Jim Warriner was referring to DPS's failure to timely analyze a DNA sample taken from Arizona Department of Corrections inmate Guadalupe Olivas.
State law requires the Department of Corrections to collect DNA samples from inmates. It also requires that DPS test all samples. Olivas' DNA swab was received by DPS on March 20, 2007, when he started serving time for forgery. Even though DPS had the DNA for more than a year, it failed to test it before Olivas was released from prison on April 1, 2008. In June 2008, two months after Olivas' release, DPS finally analyzed his DNA. He was linked to the 2006 rape of a Chandler woman.
DPS has characterized its failure in the Olivas case as a miscommunication. Initially, the agency blamed Chandler police for Olivas being free. Then it was the corrections department's fault for not telling DPS he was being released. When I asked if anyone at DPS would be held accountable, Warriner responded, "DPS has established criteria to determine which cases receive priority analysis verses lower-priority analysis because of budgetary and manpower constraints." There's thousands of untested DNA samples.
That victim's fear of being attacked again by her assailant has been compounded following DPS's failure. Her healing process suffered a major setback. The longer that justice isn't served, the longer that victims suffer. One female reader who read Warriner's statement told me she doubts if missing Olivas by two months would've been acceptable if the rape victim was the family member of a DPS officer. I investigated two rapes where family members of DPS officers were attacked. DPS pulled out the stops to take care of business.
Arizona had 1,797 rapes, 464 murders and more than 310,000 serious felony crimes committed in 2007. Around 20 percent were solved. In my May 1 Tribune column, this rape suspect's release illustrated why changes are needed at DPS. I said I'd never met a rapist who'd only committed the rape he was arrested for. Only 16 percent of rapes are reported.
DNA analysis could identify suspects who have committed thousands of crimes. DPS runs Arizona's primary crime lab and it has exceptional criminalists, but they're underpaid. The lab's short by 17 criminalists, and the boss makes less than Warriner.
Priorities have to be made in an era of the shrinking dollar. But, putting DNA testing as a lower priority over the other expenses of DPS? The Mesa Police Department's crime lab tests DNA from all felonies, which results in lower crime rates, even with budget cuts.
DPS has the ability test all DNA samples with some effective decision-making. For example, do administrative staff and desk officers need state-issued cars to take home? Does DPS need a $150,000-a-year lobbyist? Does the Legislature need both DPS and Capitol police protecting them? Does the DPS command staff need an administrative lieutenant who retired as a deputy director, was rehired immediately and is now a triple dipper?
In response to the Olivas case, Corrections department Director Chuck Ryan implemented a policy giving DPS 90 days' notice before inmates are released.
And DPS's response? They stated they're uncertain if they can get the job done even with advanced notice. Do they have the guts to redeploy the dollars and resources to make it happen? Testing DNA in the lab is not as glamorous as busting down doors, but it catches more criminals! DNA identifies more suspects than fingerprints. How many felons are waiting to be arrested?
DPS's highest priority must be to support local law enforcement by providing essential crime lab services so police and sheriff's departments can successfully complete serious felony investigations.
DPS reported 60 percent of Arizona crime is committed by gang members. Could better DNA policies identify gangsters who have committed thousands of crimes? Our Legislature has generously funded DPS's GIITEM program, and there's $54 million in statewide RICO accounts, cash that could be spent on anti-crime efforts like DNA testing.
The money and technology are available to have a major impact on Arizona's statewide crime problem. So why isn't it getting done?
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.