I want to thank Colonel Sheridan for the terrific job that he’s been doing leading our Maryland State Police. There’s no more important responsibility of our State, local or municipal governments than that of public safety. And it seems fitting that we mark progress towards our public safety goals here in Howard County, the “Heart of Maryland”.
Our ability as a people to continue to make progress is, I believe, dependent on a couple of things. First, on the skills, the talents, the education of our people, but also on our ability to be able to improve public safety in every single part of our State.
Because public safety is a top priority for our Administration, we have increased funding for the Maryland State Police by approximately 12%, or $67 million dollars compared to the same period under the former administration.
That brings me to the first part of our announcement today, which is about DNA – the modern fingerprint. DNA increasingly is a tool that law enforcement across the country is using in order to take repeat violent offenders off the streets. Before they can injure, murder, or rape another citizen again.
Announcement of 1,000th DNA hit
When our Administration first took office nearly 17 months ago, we inherited a backlog of 24,000 unanalyzed DNA samples. That’s 24,000 opportunities to solve crimes that we just had failed to analyze, that we had failed to put through the scientific rigor that would enable it to be matched within the larger database.
These samples are absolutely critical to our crime prevention efforts, our ability to resolve open investigations, our ability to sometimes solve cases that had gone dormant and gone cold years and years ago – while the perpetrator continued to elude capture, and elude justice, while victims had no closure whatsoever, while the public remained vulnerable.
In our One Maryland, we decided that was unacceptable and came together under the leadership of Colonel Sheridan, joined by other State officials like Secretary Maynard, and we have been able to knock out that backlog of some 24,000 DNA samples that have not been taken from offenders who actually qualified under the statute to have submitted them.
So thanks in large part to the progress that we’ve made, today we are able to announce that scientists at the Maryland State Police Forensic Science Laboratory have generated our State’s 1,000th DNA sample – 1,000 times that we have been able to match DNA with other evidence or other perpetrators in our database.
Now, of course, a hit does not necessarily mean that the case has been cleared and that the perpetrator has been arrested. But it is number 1000 that we have been able to match in order to move forward a case that is currently under investigation.
Of the 1000 times that we have been able to obtain hits, 500 of them occurred between 1994 and 2006. The remaining 500 have occurred over the last 2 years. So that gives you an indication of the progress we’re making, the real leads that we’re developing, the real opportunities that the hard working men and women in the State Police, in cooperation with Parole and Probation and in cooperation with the scientists our State Police lab have been able to do to safeguard our public.
What does this mean in terms of our ability to bring about a safer future that all of us prefer? Let me give you one example of a perpetrator named Stephen Sellman. We were able to arrest Stephen Sellman within the last 14 days. He has pled guilty to a rape for which he had previously eluded arrest for not 1, not 5, not 10, but 20 years.
So Stephen Sellman was able to elude arrest for 20 years, but because of successful DNA matches, today he is awaiting sentencing. And with the new DNA law, our law enforcement officials now have the ability to obtain DNA samples from those arrested and charged with violent crimes.
We used to have to wait until the conviction happened. But now, people charged with certain categories of violent crimes will have their DNA sampled, which actually squares with what great members of other states are already doing, and have been doing for some time. That has become a powerful new tool to resolve open investigations and prevent future crimes.
Because we’re working together, because we have partnerships, because we’re making progress together in our One Maryland, we have actually been able to see a reduction of about 20% in homicides Statewide, with Baltimore City actually leading the way in that. And we still have a long way to go, but it’s this sort of cooperation – things that the State Police are now able to do in a much more timely, effective and stronger manner – that enables local law enforcement to solve more cases, which then puts repeat violent offenders behind bars where they belong.
We’ve made a number of strides, not only in the DNA log, not only in the lab, but we have also made investments in stab-proof vests for our correctional officers. We’ve made investments to upgrade our fleet of helicopters upon which Shock Trauma and, all too often, lives of first responders rely. We have upgraded to new Beretta pistols. We are investing in GPS equipment to do a better job of tracking repeat, violent, and often times very vulnerable juvenile offenders so that we can protect lives in that arena. And we are committed to doing everything that we can to back up our courageous men and women in uniform with the tools they need to protect their lives.
Which takes us to the second part of the announcement, and that is that we’re going to trade in the vehicle that stands behind us. As it’s replacement, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Bearcat – the new State Police Rescue and Personnel Retrieval vehicle which is rolling over the South lawn to your left.
With a combination of federal homeland security grant dollars and State Police funds, we are investing in this new Bearcat which is safer, which is faster, and it’s smarter than the vehicle that it replaces – this museum piece which stands behind me to the left. I’m told that Barney Rubble would have no trouble driving that vehicle because you can practically put your foot through the floorboards of it.
The vehicle to my right, the newer vehicle, has significantly more ballistic protection than its predecessor. It holds twice as many troopers and still has room for equipment. It’s equipped with high intensity lights, a removable battering ram, and other important features which were previously unavailable to State Police during raids or hostage situations which arise from time to time, and other circumstances when these tools can become necessary.
It is better prepared to face the challenges that we might anticipate in the post 9/11 world, to enter areas where hazardous materials might be present. And while its predecessor struggled to make its way up to 45 miles per hour, this Bearcat can actually top 75 miles an hour, which is extremely important given the areas of first response the State Police have within their realm of responsibilities.
We’re making these investments because we want Maryland to be a national leader, not in its level of violent crimes, but in its improvement of public safety, and the degree to which it is able to protect our citizens. So together we have vowed to fight back against violence, whenever and wherever it occurs in our State.
I greatly appreciate all of you coming out here to be with us today.