Crime and Public Safety
“Building safe and secure communities is one of our most important national goals. To succeed, we must create drug- and crime-free schools, support a professional, visible police force rooted in our communities, and invest critical resources in the prevention and intervention of criminal activity by at-risk youth.” – Congressman Adam Schiff
Topics in this Section:
As the father of two young children, Congressman Schiff has been a dedicated advocate for child safety and believes we should always demand the best when it comes to protecting our young people. For this reason, he introduced the Child Protection Improvements Act.
There are thousands of community based groups working around our nation to provide mentoring, tutoring and assistance to young people, and they rely on volunteers to provide those services. These groups need to be able to conduct cheap, fast and accurate background checks on prospective volunteers and employees to ensure the safety of our children.
The Child Protection Improvements Act creates just such a system by using the FBI’s fingerprint-based database to ensure a volunteer’s fitness to work with children. The bill builds on an existing 6-year-old pilot program, which has run more than 60,000 background checks since 2003 for less than $20 each. Under the pilot, 6 percent of applicants have been found to have serious criminal histories, including crimes against children and sexual assaults, demonstrating that the program serves a vital role in protecting kids.
The House of Representatives passed the Child Protection Improvements Act on a strong, bipartisan vote in 2010, and Schiff will be working to enact the bill in the 113th Congress.
Schiff has also been working through the appropriations process to increase resources for local crime labs as they struggle to clear a decade-old backlog of DNA evidence collected from sexual assaults. Since 2008, Schiff has obtained millions of federal dollars for both the Los Angeles Sherriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department to close the rape kit backlog – the evidence collected during a sexual assault investigation. Thousands of these kits had gone tragically untested; some had been shelved for more than 10 years without being tested. With his support, both the LAPD and the Sherriff’s labs will eliminate the backlog during 2011, a huge step forward from the 14,000 kit backlog they collectively faced in 2009.
Schiff has also obtained substantial federal support to help create a state-of-the-art crime lab in Glendale. The Glendale crime lab will ultimately provide forensic services to police departments throughout the Foothills communities.
Schiff tried criminal cases as a federal prosecutor in the early days of the DNA-evidence revolution and has continued to be a strong supporter of using DNA technology to its fullest potential to solve crimes. A technology called Familial DNA holds great promise for solving some of the most difficult cases and punishing the guilty. Familial DNA works by matching a sample collected at a crime scene to the database of convicted offenders in such a way that it reports instances where there is a high likelihood that the crime scene sample comes from someone very closely related to a person in the offender database. This technology was used in California to identify and convict the Grim Sleeper serial killer in Los Angeles, an individual who had killed at least 10 people over decades but had gone unapprehended. Using a familial search, which California first authorized in 2009, the police matched DNA from the crime scene to the killer’s son, who had been imprisoned for robbery. Further investigation identified the killer, who was arrested and confirmed guilty through additional DNA tests.
Schiff has introduced legislation to authorize the FBI to implement a familial search system for the national DNA database. The legislation includes measures to protect the privacy and civil rights of those in the database, and familial searches would be used only in cases where other leads have been exhausted and only for violent crimes such as murder and rape. Schiff introduced the Utilizing DNA Technology to Solve Cold Cases Act in 2010, and will reintroduce it in the 113th Congress.
The advent of DNA evidence has transformed law enforcement. As many observers have noted, DNA is really the modern fingerprint, yet even more powerful. However, to use DNA technology to its fullest potential to take criminals off the streets, we need to invest in DNA technology. Effectively utilizing DNA in law enforcement is one of Schiff’s top priorities.
Schiff introduced the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act to incentivize states, like California, that collect DNA samples upon arrest for certain violent felonies. The legislation is named for a young woman from New Mexico who was brutally murdered. Her assailant escaped arrest for many years despite repeated arrests because none of the arrests resulted in a conviction. It was only several years later that he was convicted and a match was found to evidence collected from the crime scene where Katie was murdered. Although he was ultimately convicted of the crime, he could have been caught far earlier if law enforcement had taken a DNA sample and run it against open cases first. Katie’s Law would give states an incentive to invest in DNA collection, helping to solve crimes and prevent future ones. Schiff was a cosponsor of similar legislation in the 111th Congress, which passed the House in 2010.
Each year, California’s wilderness areas, homes and businesses are threatened by deadly fires, many of which are started by arson. Firefighters have a tough enough job managing natural forest fires, given California’s climate and Santa Ana winds. As a federal prosecutor, Schiff handled many arson cases and saw the incalculable damage caused by these criminals. Intentionally set fires destroy homes, precious natural resources and take the lives of innocent victims, including our brave firefighters on the front lines of public safety. Arsons are among the most difficult crimes to investigate because the crime scene is destroyed by the ensuing fire, and as a result law enforcement agencies clear less than 20 percent of arson cases by arrest.
For this reason, Schiff co-authored the Managing Arson Through Criminal History (MATCH) Act of 2009, along with Congresswoman Mary Bono (R-CA), to establish a national database to track convicted arsonists. The legislation recognizes that arson is a crime with high recidivism rates, and seeks to ensure that firefighters and public safety officers are aware of criminal arsonists living in their region. The national database would only provide access to law enforcement and fire investigators, to protect the privacy of individuals that have served their sentences, however it would ensure that law enforcement has access to fingerprints and photographs of convicted arsonists should they be involved in a future arson. The MATCH Act passed the House on a voice vote, but it did not clear the Senate in time. Schiff will continue to work on this issue in 113th Congress.
Congressman Schiff is a leading advocate for smart, evidence-based criminal justice reforms that reduce spending on corrections and reduce recidivism among those who have spent time in prison. The size and cost of our prison system has exploded over the past three decades. Substantial research has shown that smart reform of the criminal justice system can have the three-fold effect of reducing crime, reducing spending, and reducing recidivism.
Schiff sponsored the Honest Opportunities with Probation Enforcement Iniatitive Act (HOPE). The HOPE program was pioneered by Judge Steven Alm of Hawaii, a former U.S. Attorney, who developed a highly effective system of probation for offenders under his supervision. HOPE provides for swift, certain sanctions for missteps by probationers, but punishments are graduated so that they increase in severity over time. An independent study of HOPE found that it reduced recidivism by 55 percent – an unprecedented success. Schiff’s legislation would expand the HOPE model to additional sites around the country. He will continue to support HOPE through the appropriations process, and plans to reintroduce the legislation in 2011.
Schiff has been a leading voice in Congress for cracking down on cyber crime and identity theft. In May 2007, he introduced bipartisan legislation with Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) that takes strong steps to combat cyber crime and protect data security. The Cyber-Security Enhancement Act is designed to help protect American consumers and businesses from the costly effects of identity theft and computer fraud.
Schiff is concerned that as criminals use new technologies to prey upon their victims and defraud consumers, our efforts to fight them have lagged. The Cyber-Security Enhancement Act would provide better data security protections for individuals and businesses by giving law enforcement the tools they need to successfully track down and prosecute cyber criminals.
Many of the reforms that Schiff introduced were ultimately enacted as part of a larger bill (H.R. 6060) in October 2008. He will be working in the 113th Congress to ensure our laws stay up to date, and are able to effectively combat cyber criminals and identity thieves.
In September 2010, Schiff introduced the Data Breach Notification Act, a companion bill to legislation introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA). The Data Breach Notification Act would lay out a national standard requiring companies and public agencies to notify consumers when their data is stolen or lost. Data breach can result in significant losses to consumers because they were never told of the loss of the data, making them vulnerable to identity theft.
Preventing Gang Violence
Schiff has long fought to end gang violence, dating back to his days as a federal prosecutor and State Senator, when he saw firsthand the damage that gangs cause in our communities. In 2009, Schiff introduced the Gang Prevention, Intervention, and Suppression Act, which would create new criminal gang offenses and require harsher penalties for illegal gang members who are convicted of those crimes, while focusing on providing new resources for community-based programs that seek to prevent future gang activity.
The bill takes concrete steps in fighting gang violence by increasing federal support for law enforcement, and by cracking down on gang offenders and increasing penalties for those gang members who terrorize our communities. Of equal importance to Schiff, the legislation also takes the next step in prevention and intervention efforts to protect our children from gang violence.
This bill implements a similar prevention and intervention-based model as the landmark juvenile delinquency legislation that Schiff passed when he was in the State Legislature – the Schiff-Cardenas Crime Prevention Act of 2000. The State legislation was the first time that California invested as much in prevention of crime as in the suppression of crime.
Schiff believes that enforcement of the law must go hand in hand with prevention. In the 111th Congress, he introduced the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and Key Investments in Developmental Services (KIDS) Act. The COPS and KIDS Act would invest in proven programs to keep kids out of trouble and in school, while supporting community-level policing that puts cops on the streets in our neighborhoods. Schiff believes that an effective strategy against crime has to recognize the importance of supporting programs to help at-risk young people stay out of gangs and out of trouble. The bill would also fund programs to help juvenile offenders turn their lives around by providing counseling, substance abuse treatment, and educational services.