U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs; National Institute of Justice The Research, Development, and Evaluation Agency of the U.S. Department of Justice U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice ProgramsNational Institute of JusticeThe Research, Development, and Evaluation Agency of the U.S. Department of Justice

Director's Message, NIJ Journal No. 264

Kristina Rose, Acting Director

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National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs)
"Government at Its Best"

NIJ is very proud of the progress that we have made in developing a new tool for law enforcement and the general public to use called NamUs, which is the cover article of the "NIJ Journal" this month. NamUs houses two databases at namus.gov where persons can, can search for missing loved ones, for family members of missing persons. The hardest part is the fragmented nature of the system. And if they experience a missing loved one, they have to talk to the police; they may be calling coroners' offices; they may be calling missing persons clearinghouses. And now there is one centralized resource called NamUs where people can do searches of this database, and it brings all of that information together. And I really see NamUs as "government at its best," because it is not only aiding our criminal justice system, but it's bringing the family members into the system as well, and giving them the power to be able to do the searching themselves. Because they're the ones that are gonna stay up late into the night searching for their missing loved ones. And this give, gives them a place to be able to do that, to feel like they're part of the process.

Postconviction DNA Testing Assistance Program

NIJ has a postconviction DNA grant program and earlier in the year, we held a Postconviction DNA Evidence Symposium to raise awareness around this grant program and the funds that we provide to jurisdictions, so they can use those resources to go back and do additional testing in cases where persons who have been convicted of a crime believe that they are actually innocent. So as a result of this symposium that we had—I think we had 47 states represented at that symposium—we doubled the number of applicants for our postconviction DNA testing program and have made those awards. So we are hoping to hold another conviction, postconviction DNA symposium in 2010 so that we can get even more applicants in that year.

Wrongful Convictions Panel at the IACP 2009 Annual Conference

I recently returned from the International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Conference, which was held in Denver this year. And I was lucky enough to be asked to participate in a panel on wrongful convictions. And this has become a very big issue in law enforcement, especially around the areas of eyewitness identification and, and the collection of evidence and the preservation of evidence. What we found is that many of the cases that ... rape cases, homicide cases that occurred back in the '70s and '80s, at that time the technology, the DNA technology was not as advanced as it is now. So in cases where inmates are asking to have their DNA evidence tested, if that biological evidence was not preserved, you've got a real problem. We may never find out whether that person was actually innocent. But if that evidence was preserved, we can use the new technology that we have that can prove whether that person was actually innocent of that crime, and they can be exonerated.

Domestic Violence Research

Shortly after the Violence Against Women Act passed in 1994, NIJ started receiving research funding to look into the issues around domestic violence and sexual assault and stalking. And since that time, we have funded more than 250 research projects on those issues and beyond. We've also looked at issues such as teen dating violence and elder abuse. And this month's issue of the "Journal" talks specifically about a study that was conducted by Dr., Dr. Becky Campbell, who is at Michigan State University, and she evaluated the SANE programs there—or the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner programs—and found that they are, they are very effective, especially in the area of prosecuting those crimes and getting convictions in those crimes. The SANEs collect the evidence from sexual assault victims, and it's very important to make sure that evidence is collected well, so that you increase your chances of getting a prosecution, or increase your chances of prosecuting that crime and getting a conviction.

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Date modified: April 15, 2011