By J. B. Van Hollen, Attorney General
When I became Attorney General on January 1, 2007, I made it a priority to put law enforcement and public safety first at the Department of Justice (DOJ). I believe strongly that the Department of Justice exists to assist local law enforcement. Thus, it has been my focus to find ways that the Department of Justice, through its resources, can help local law enforcement better do its job, and how I, as Attorney General, can use my office to help enhance awareness of the public safety issues facing the state.
From my prior experience as district attorney and United States Attorney and listening to law enforcement as I traveled the state, I knew that there was perhaps no single program run at the Department of Justice that could help local law enforcement and prosecutors more than cutting into the DNA backlog at the state crime labs. DNA forensics can help identify or eliminate suspects in ongoing investigations, saving police time and resources while enhancing conviction rates. Timely processing DNA evidence helps law enforcement in every corner of the state.
When I took office, the backlog had reached emergency proportions. For every two cases we were receiving, one was being worked on and another added to the backlog. After conducting an extensive internal audit, I knew that we needed additional resources, and fast. With your help, I was able to work with the Governor and Legislators on both sides of the aisle to obtain emergency legislation that allowed DOJ to hire new DNA Analysts.
But resources are only part of the equation. These new analysts are in training and it will be months before they can ever work a case. Nevertheless, by increasing efficiencies with the resources that were already at DOJ, we are on pace to work nearly 75 percent more cases this year than last. While we projected that the backlog would nearly double before the new analysts got to the bench, by increasing efficiencies, the backlog is actually smaller today than it was when I took office. That’s something we can all be proud of.
One of the reasons I knew the crime lab was so important was because I heard it repeatedly from you. I’ve made it a top priority to maximize interaction with law enforcement so that the Department can increase its responsiveness to your needs. In October, I hosted a law enforcement summit that brought together law enforcement from throughout the state to discuss issues such as crimes against children and the evolving drug problem. This was not a conference of presentations where the Department told you our thoughts; it was an interactive summit where you shared ideas with me and DOJ staff, so that we could do our jobs better at the state level.
But this dialogue must occur at the community level as well. That’s why I am traveling throughout the state, county by county, to meet with law enforcement and other leaders on public safety issues concerning their individual communities. A variety of issues are raised at these meetings, from immigration to enhancing the TIME system, from public records law to the implementation of HR-218. I look forward to working in partnership with you on issues like these and continuing to have community-level meetings to enable the Department of Justice to better assist you in the significant work you do to make Wisconsin a safer place.
I wish each of you and your families a Happy Holiday Season and a safe New Year.