The National Institute of Justice—an agency of the United States Department of Justice—awarded $1.25 million jointly to the Innocence Project (in New York) and New York Police Department to diminish the time it takes to find existing DNA evidence. Much of the this evidence today cannot be found due to being lost amongst the large backlog within the NYPD evidence storage units.
The sum of $1.25 million will be distributed over two years starting October 1, 2012. The Innocence Project will hire a new employee to sort through some 800 convictions in New York City where there is reason to believe the existing DNA evidence could prove innocence.
Another portion of the money will go to the NYPD. They will search through their evidence storage units and assign bar codes to the evidence of each homicide and sexual assault case. Hopefully, making it easier to locate evidence, particularly evidence from these older cases. The office of the Chief Medical Examiner will receive another portion to cover the DNA testing as needed for these cases.
NYPD Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said, “Through this grant, the N.Y.P.D. is proud to join the Innocence Project in its noble work to restore actually innocent persons to society.” The New York Times finds that:
“The alliance is somewhat unusual in that the Innocence Project’s goal is to undo convictions that can be the result of faulty police work.”
It is unusual, but it’s the sort of cooperation what we hope for. No one wants an innocent person to go to prison. We applaud NYPD’s willingness to correct mistakes, potentially their mistakes. We see this alliance as a huge step in the right direction.
Police departments around the nation are beginning to realize the impact of poor record keeping and organization of evidence. In May, we wrote about the SAFER Act (Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry). The proponents of this registry realize that it costs from $800-$5,000 to reanalyze a rape kit. Therefore the evidence must be organized before SAFER supporters can calculate what it will cost to evaluate every untested kit.
It is important to the victim, the prevention of future victims, and those convicted of the crimes that all DNA evidence in existence is known about. SAFER’s public registry model intends to amass the kits on a website. This will not only prove to the public the dire need for better organized evidence storage units, it will make it easier for those imprisoned for a crime to find if untested DNA evidence from their crime exists.
Hopefully these steps will ensure that another innocent person will not have to wait an extended time as law enforcement locates evidence in their case, like Alan Newton who was exonerated in 2006 after waiting 11 years for officials to locate “lost” evidence.
Here’s the New York Time’s report on the funding.