Bill rewards DNA collection as local law enforcement scrambles for more cash

A measure passed by the House of Representatives Tuesday would allocate money to states who have implemented a system for collecting DNA from persons arrested for violent crimes. A provision that would have penalized states who do not meet minimum requirements for DNA collection practices was removed before final passage, after some lawmakers raised concerns.

The Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act would create a 10 percent incentive payment through Justice Department grants for states that implement and use enhanced DNA collection processes. According to the bill, DNA samples of someone arrested or charged with a violent crime needs to be searchable through the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and comparable with information from the National DNA Index System to be considered “enhanced.” The bonuses would come from Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance grants, also known as the JAG program, and be available through fiscal 2015.

JAG program awards are formula-based grants to state and local law enforcement, totaling $2 billion in 2010. The bonus payments could be worth as much as $10 million to a state like New York. But according to the National District Attorneys Association, only twenty-two states have passed laws permitting DNA collection of arrested individuals, rendering the national database less effective.

In the original language of HR 4614, Byrne grants were to be reduced by 5 percent if state recipients did not have a minimal DNA collection process in place. But following some resistance, the measure was dropped. Lawmakers said that cost was prohibitive to most states that had not yet implemented such programs and that penalizing them would only make matters worse.

As states struggle to close widening budget gaps, law enforcement and public safety is usually at the bottom of a list of cuts. But due to the severity of the economic recession, states have had to look towards Washington to help offset some of their costs. Last summer, DoJ officials spent an additional $1 billion to preserve nearly 5,000 law enforcement positions at state, local and tribal agencies across the country. But many states felt short changed by the hiring program and are scrambling to keep shoes on the beat.

“Decreases in public safety budgets increase grant competition,” said Jeff Webster, a senior analyst at INPUT. Mr. Webster and the market research firm estimate that total funding for justice and public safety and homeland security will be around $5.7 billion in 2010. But as the latest DNA program illustrates, organization and strong applications will be key in getting any additional funds.

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