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Transcript: Mayor Eric Adams Announces Creation of DNA Gun Crimes Unit

June 30, 2022

Mayor Eric Adams: So thank you. Thank you very much. It's good to be here, and we have been moving around to all of our city agencies and talking with the staff and meeting the people who make this city work. And for a long time, they've had great ideas, they had great ways to make government function. And it's unfortunate that as chief executives sometimes we just don't listen, and that is not how we are going to operate. We had a call this morning with all of our commissioners and other first and second line leaders, and just really motivating people that we must be bold on how we solve the problems that we are facing. And I'm just happy to be here with Dr. Graham and his team that's behind us as this office plays such a major role in the functioning of our city.

Mayor Adams: From the days of being a police officer, having to call the ME's office to what they did around 9/11, fires, helping to investigate crimes and also to use their technology to make our city safe. And so it's great to be here at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and this is the best lab on the planet. Bar none. It's not a discussion. The discussion is who's two and three. Number one, everyone knows, we have the best lab on the planet and today, that lab is becoming even better. And that's to mean the men and women of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, they just know how to get stuff done, and they do it consistently in a very smooth way. And because they do it so well, we don't even realize the important roles that they're playing. They're on the frontline, giving answers to families in our city during crucial times when things happen.

Mayor Adams: And if you just look at this number, the lab analyzed nearly 50,000 pieces of crime scene evidence every year. In 2021, the lab processed close to over 2,687 gun cases, a 59% increase compared to 2020. This is a central part of our apparatus in fighting against gun violence, and sometimes, we miss this piece but without this piece, we can't take guns off our streets and deal with people who are dangerous to our city. And so today, we are adding another tool to our arsenal, the OCME DNA Guns Crimes Unit. This will be the first ever, and we need to keep scores because I keep saying over and over again, the words first ever, first ever, first ever. This is the first ever unit, gun crime team that is going to be putting in place this apparatus.

Mayor Adams: The $2.5 million unit will hire, train 24 forensic scientists dedicated to testing and analyzing of evidence from gun crimes throughout the five boroughs. First time ever a unit of this capacity, that as a public DNA crime laboratory, the first time in a nation you're seeing something of this magnitude. We saw it upstairs, state of the art. The unit will accelerate evidence testing from 60 days to 30 days. It's going to cut it in half so that we can prosecute cases faster and get dangerous people off our streets. The DNA Gun Crimes Unit is hiring and so we're asking people, if you want to be the modern day CSI, please come on board. We received responses after a PSA. We want more people to see this amazing career and amazing energy in this building. There's a high level of energy that people here enjoy what they're doing, they know they are making a difference in the lives of New Yorkers, and help us. We want folks to come in and join us and help us lead the way to deal with gun violence.

Mayor Adams: Because if we don't collect that evidence, we don't make a connection to the person who used that gun and it makes it difficult to solve the crime. And so come be a part of this team. This is another arm of law enforcement. This is how we strengthen public safety and how we fight gun violence. We're saying to those committed to gun crimes, science is coming for you and we are going to use this science to get you off our street.

Mayor Adams: And we see it every day. We saw it last night, Councilman Powers and I responding to the Upper East Side of just a horrible shooting. We know that there are too many guns on our streets. The partnership we did yesterday with our attorney general and others, the Sheriff’s Department, to go after ghost guns. Standing with the US Senator Gillibrand to talk about those who are trafficking guns, we are damming every river that needs to be dammed and the lack of having the right technology was a river that was allowing guns to flow into the sea of violence. Today, we are damming that river and making sure that we have the flow of technology to get dangerous people off our streets.

Mayor Adams: This is something that's impacting our country. All over the country, we're seeing the sickening reality of the over proliferation of guns and the obsession of using guns in our country. And as mayor and as a former police officer, I am dedicated to stopping this madness. And we are going to do everything in our powers to make sure that we accomplish this task, and one of our most important partners is right here in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. And with that, I would like to introduce Dr. Graham and just tell him, thank you for you and your team for the job they're doing. Thank you.

Dr. Jason Graham, Chief Medical Examiner: Thank you, Mayor Adams, very much. We're delighted to welcome you to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, or the OCME today along with our distinguished guests, and we're so grateful to you for your support of our agency. OCME is, as the mayor said, home to the largest and most advanced public DNA crime laboratory in North America. We have a very proud history of science serving justice, and today, we're taking another step in that critical mission with the launch of our new DNA Gun Crimes Unit.

Dr. Graham: Our current turnaround time for gun crimes cases is already better and faster than most labs in the country. With this new dedicated unit, exclusively dealing with gun crimes, the first of its kind in the country, we will achieve a 30 day turnaround time for gun crimes cases and be the fastest of any large municipal laboratory in the nation. Accelerated results will help the criminal justice system resolve cases as quickly as possible. These proceedings can result in the exoneration of someone who's innocent or the conviction of someone who's guilty. Faster turnaround times also speed answers for victims, families, and our communities, which are affected by the gun violence epidemic. Our DNA Gun Crimes unit is setting a new standard, and that standard is meeting the urgency of this moment.

Dr. Graham: The OCME stands uniquely at the crossroads of public health and public safety. Every day, our professionals speak with families, struggling with the grief and pain of a death that is caused by gun violence. Parents, siblings, and children who also worry about losing other loved ones to the ongoing cycle of trauma. Today, we at the OCME are doing our part as doctors, as forensic scientists, with independence and impartiality to help our city in the sickness of gun violence. New Yorkers cannot wait another moment and neither will we. Thank you very much.

Mayor Adams: Well said. And I want to bring on Councilman Powers to say a few words. Councilman?

Council Member Keith Powers: Yeah. Thank you. Thanks. Thank you. First of all, I'm so glad to have, what, the whole staff here and I want to say thank you to everyone. Give them a big round of applause, they deserve it. I live right down the block and I walk by this building, recessed back here every single day, and I think so many other New Yorkers do too and don't recognize or realize how important the work is that's going on in this building and in this whole area to really serve our city. But now, it's getting even better, and as the mayor mentioned, he and I and others were up at the shooting last night on the border of my district on the Upper East Side where another senseless tragedy took an innocent person's life, and in the wake of that, last night and today, all I've heard from constituents and New Yorkers is what is next? What is coming next?

Council Member Powers: And the mayor, I know yesterday, spent his entire day and now today talking about steps that the city is going to take. We obviously are also asking Albany to take steps to respond to the Supreme Court case from last week, but we have to use every single tool at our disposal right now to make sure… and every city agency has to be involved in the fight to reduce the senseless gun violence in the city, to get guns off the street and to catch the people that are responsible for that. So this is an announcement that I hope does not fly under the radar. I hope New Yorkers recognize what this means. It means we will have the better tools that we need to catch those individuals like the one last night, and to put them away and to get them off our streets because New Yorkers deserve that, and deserve to have a city government that responds to that.

Council Member Powers: So I'm just very deeply thankful to the mayor for staying on course here to continue to go after those who are bringing guns onto the streets and hurting New Yorkers. I want to thank the entire agency here because you guys are I think often the unsung heroes of this city. You don't always get recognized for all the work you're doing but you make our city safer, you make it better and you bring a lot of justice to families here in New York City. So thank you, thank you to the mayor. Thank you for everything you guys are doing for our city.

Mayor Adams: Thank you, Councilman. And I also want thank our deputy mayor of public safety, Phil Banks. During the time that we were talking about the labs, the coordination of bringing all of our entities together, his wisdom and knowledge just really helped us see, where must we fill in the gaps? And that's the coordination that we are doing and we're going to continue to roll out how we're coordinating. You saw the coordination with the Sheriff's Department yesterday in ghost guns. You are going to continue to see the full complement of our law enforcement apparatus under his leadership as we professionalize and tear down those barriers that have prevented us in the past of solving these complicated crimes. And so are we opening to any questions on the topic.

Question: Good morning mayor.

Mayor Adams: How are you?

Question: This is Katie Homan from The City. Last year, there was a federal study that's called an elimination database, and there's a federal study that actually asked law enforcement officers to submit their DNA to the database to rule them out in case of crimes from a UK study. But I'm curious, do you think that police officers and other law enforcement should enter into this database? And if not, has it happened yet? And talk a little bit about this elimination database, because it could be helpful when looking to solve crimes in case there's a cop on the scene, picks it up. His or her DNA is ruled out to help the technical examination.

Mayor Adams: Well, two things. Number one, we want to use DNA and science to solve crimes, to take dangerous people off the street. We want to do that. But we want to do it in strict compliance with the laws that are put in place. We're not going to violate any laws and any rules but we want to use science as much as possible. That's a nice little sign. So our legal team is continuing to look at whatever rulings come down. We are going to comply. The corporation counselors, Judge Hinds-Radix is going to comply with whatever rulings that come down, so we are in compliance. We are in full compliance with whatever rule has come down. Dr. Graham, do you want to add anything to that?

Dr. Graham: I think that the elimination databases are useful. We have an elimination database as a requirement for all of our laboratory scientists to address the contamination issues that you are alluding to, and that's a standard practice in forensic science laboratories.

Question: And I know as of last year, there were 233 NYPD officers who have been part of the database. Has that increased? And it seems to make sense, you would eliminate people who are naturally willing to be at the crime scene, picking up evidence, to eliminate them. And do you think more police officers should be added to this database?

Dr. Graham: I don't know the extent to which that's increased over the course of the past year but I think as a general practice, any individuals involved in the handling of forensic evidence that certainly would be used potentially for DNA testing, it would be advisable to have them in an elimination database.

Question: Steve Burns, WCBS 880. I want to get an idea of if there's a percentage of gun cases where DNA is useful, and where is that DNA coming from in the act of the shooting? I take it there are a lot of cases where you don't get DNA, so how do we parse through this?

Dr. Graham: We receive evidence in a couple of forms in gun crimes cases. One, swabs that are taken from guns that are found in the areas of the guns that are swabbed. This is sampling that's performed by the NYPD. We do not obtain those samples, those samples are submitted to us but there are areas of higher yield of DNA on the guns swabs are taken and submitted to us. Other types of evidence are also submitted in gun crimes cases and generally speaking if DNA is there we are in about 60 to 70% of the cases able to recover that DNA developer profile and then go on to either perform a match or an exclusion.

Question: For either the mayor or the medical examiner, just some specifics on this new news. How many scientists are going to be [inaudible], what is their day to day work going to be like?

Dr. Graham: So we are actively recruiting. We are going to be hiring 24 criminalists as forensic scientists who are part of this new gun crimes unit. We have already reviewed over 300 resumes. We've identified already 10 of the 24 criminalists that are going to be hired, and we're moving very swiftly to hire the remaining criminalists, hopefully by this fall to have the unit fully up and on board, ready to train. And then within a year, be able to complete training and have the unit fully functional and achieve that turnaround target of 30 days in gun crime cases.

Question: The 24 criminalists, how does that compare to the overall medical examiner staff that's involving DNA testing for crimes? How big is the entire staff [inaudible]?

Dr. Graham: Our forensic biology laboratory at the OCME is our largest forensic laboratory. We operate five forensic laboratories in our office, the forensic biology laboratory being the largest. With that, the lab has roughly 150 or so criminalists.


Question: Mr. Mayor, you have Albany listed as holding the special session today where they're going to pass reactions to the Supreme Court's gun ruling, dedicated [inaudible 00:01:38], as well as setting the rules for the permitting process. Just wondering, what is the next step on the City level? Are you just going to follow all the regulations that they're putting in place? Or are you planning to institute additional steps and regulations on top of that?

Mayor Adams: Well, it was very important immediately after the ruling, we communicated with the governor. She pulled together a group of mayors across the state, and in anticipation of the ruling of our chief counsel and the court counsel, we're starting the process of what are we looking for in anticipation of the ruling. So we're still analyzing the ruling because we want to get it right, but we need the governor to be the quarterback here.

Mayor Adams: If we don't do it within the ruling, we're going to open ourselves up to having something overturned, and we don't want to do that. We want to understand clearly what's within our powers, particularly around sensitive locations, around allowing private locations or businesses to state if they don't want someone carrying a gun in or not. So we're looking at how do we sort of restrict the damage that the Supreme Court has carried out.

Mayor Adams: How you all doing? Those are vegan meals?

Mayor Adams: It's clear, you make a wish that's how your wish happens. You did that as a little girl, right? So it's clear that we have to coordinate how we do this. So the governor, we were in communication with the governor's office, her legal team, and we have created what we believe are the best things to do. Now we have to execute the plan.

Question: [Inaudible] How is this program different from the program that was introduced in 2015 that was also analyzing DNA from [inaudible]?

Dr. Graham: This will be part of the routine processing of gun crime evidence in our lab. This is simply an addition of a unit that is doing exclusively gun crimes work, rather than doing different types of DNA evidence processing. It will be a team devoted exclusively to gun crimes. That will be the sole focus of their work.

Question: [Inaudible] Dr. Graham or Mayor Adams, how was-

Mayor Adams: [Inaudible] a great job.

Question: [Inaudible] better understand of where gun crimes were being processed for DNA before that. Was it spread across a couple teams, a couple labs?

Dr. Graham: The gun crimes were being processed as other types of DNA evidence is processed. Our criminalists are trained across a variety of types of evidence that come into our lab, from sexual assaults, to property crimes, to gun crimes, they're broadly trained. An individual criminalist would work on a variety of types of cases, whereas now this unit is going to focus exclusively with a set of criminalists on gun crimes.

Question: Mayor Adams, was the creation of this devoted unit in response to the gun violence at ongoing now? Or was it already years underway?

Mayor Adams: No. During the transition, Deputy Mayor Banks was looking at all of the units that's attached to Public Safety. We discovered that many of the cases that were bottlenecked in the court system had to do with DNA testing. We started the pursuit of doing a flow chart of where's the testing slow. We discovered this. Dr. Graham, the team here gave us some feedback.

Mayor Adams: That's why I say it's important to talk to people who are on the ground. We immediately said, "Listen, let's allocate the money because we cannot allow these cases to remain open." Because some of the gun cases, the DAs won't move forward without the DNA testing. So we're allowing these dangerous people to stay on the street, and so our goal was to say, "Let's get this testing done."


Question: Is there about pulling the DNA off of a gun that is harder than, say, in any other kind of cases?

Dr. Graham: I would say that it's not necessarily harder than any other kind of case. There are challenges with guns, as there are with other types of evidence, with respect to the amount of DNA that may be deposited on a gun by any individual, the quality of that DNA, the presence of a mixture of DNA. So the same challenges that are faced in a variety of types of DNA cases, we also face in gun crimes. So I wouldn't say that there's anything particularly more challenging about gun crimes.

Question: [Inaudible] a gun is found at the scene of the crime. Is there any way or anything that could cause that DNA to [inaudible] the weather or things like that?

Dr. Graham: Those are all factors that create challenges. The degradation of the DNA due to weather, due to heat, due to contamination with blood or other sources of potential contamination. Those are all challenges that the lab has to face in developing profiles for comparisons.

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor Adams: Yeah, off topic.

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor Adams: Yeah, I don't want to be a part of this off topic.

Question: Okay. Dr. Graham, [Inaudible].


Question: Hi, Mr. Mayor.

Mayor Adams: How are you?

Question: I wanted to ask you about mayoral control. It expires today. Do you want-

Mayor Adams: Yes.

Question: ...the governor to sign the bill? What happens if it lapses today? Does the city need to [inaudible]?

Mayor Adams: That's a great question. That's a great question. I was speaking with the chancellor yesterday and he stated that if it lapsed, it just would create a lot of madness. So, I am hoping the governor signs the bill today and there appears to be indicators that she's going to do so. I know they're looking to address some of the other issues up there. So we are looking forward to get it signed.

Question: Any other issues that you'd like her to address?

Mayor Adams: There's a host of things that are still taking place. The gun legislation, the gun bills. So just some of the other pieces that Albany's trying to finish up.

Question: Yes, mayor. I would like to speak about the Julissia Batties case. Her mom and father were arrested yesterday. So I'm asking why did it take so long? Also the dad says that the system definitely failed her, referring to the ACS. So Mr. Mayor, we're asking, what will you be doing to fix the system?

Mayor Adams: Well, we have to really examine exactly if there was a failure. Anytime we have cases like this, we're in a constant state of analyzing, how could we do something better? So I don't know if I support what the data is around that. We are looking to see - was there something we could have done better? And let's continue to evolve, pivot and shift to produce a better product, and we're looking at that.

Mayor Adams: When you say, why did it take so long? It's always important. You never want to prematurely present a case without all the evidence. If you do that and a person is found not guilty, then you open the door that you won't be able to go after them again because of the double jeopardy. So it's crucial that when you bring these cases to the DA, when they bring it to trial, that we have all the evidence. I'd rather we methodically carry it out, so that we can get the conviction that we want, and not just trying to just have a good soundbite that we made an arrest. It must be done correctly.

Question: Thank you.

Question: Mr. Mayor, [inaudible] person of interest, also where is that child [inaudible]?

Mayor Adams: Yeah, we strongly believe it was not a random shooting, that the victim was targeted. The Police Department is still conducting an ongoing investigation, and we are going to catch this person that's responsible for this action. The exact location of the child, we don't want to put out right now, but we are in communication with family members.

Question: Can you speak about [inaudible]?

Mayor Adams: Not at this time. It's still extremely active. The detectives are focused on it. As I stated, we will bring this person to justice.

Question: Going back to the education issue. The other bill that's pending is the class size bill. So obviously, you're hoping that she signs mayoral control, but have you spoken to her about what she's going to do on the class size bill? And are you hoping that she won't sign that?

Mayor Adams: I have been communicating with the leaders there. We like the idea of class sizes. We just have to do it correctly, that we don't impact our ability to ensure that those students and those schools that are in need, receive the support that they deserve. Now, class sizes have already dropped.

Mayor Adams: Contractually, for the UFT, the contract calls for 30-something students per class. We're down to 21.5 per class, because we're hemorrhaging parents. My biggest fear is that we get to a point where the federal government is going to have to reallocate our funding to our schools because of the drop in students. We have a hemorrhaging of families that are leaving the city, leaving the school system. I had a conversation this morning with some of the congressional delegation to talk about, we have to start gearing up to look at if we're going to lose federal funding because of what we are facing in the hemorrhaging of students.

Question: Thank you. One more on the mayoral control issue. Do you have any understanding of why the governor hasn't signed it? I mean, it's been weeks since it passed.

Mayor Adams: Right, and I don't know. I think that she was looking over other items that were pressing. I think this gun issue threw everyone into a refocus. So, I'm not sure. I feel confident that it's going to be signed before the sun setting.

Question: If she doesn't, you used the word "madness." Is there some sort of plan B that kicks in if mayoral control lapses? What actually happens?

Mayor Adams: Yeah, no. We definitely have a plan B. The school system, we have months before the school system is back in operation. So we are definitely going to be prepared. Plan A, plan B, we're going to be prepared, prepared to educate students, coming this year. My understanding, that if it lapses, sort of a lack of clarity, if we go back to school boards. There's a lack of clarity around that. But I feel confident that we're going to sign it before sunset. They already voted on it. They passed it. We are excited about the fact that we still have it, and we feel that we're going to be able to come to... the governor signing it today.

Question: Mr. Mayor, question about Neighborhood Safety Teams. I'm not sure if you saw photos that arose yesterday. A couple of officers at the Myrtle Broadway subway station who were dressed in vests indicating they were delivery workers for Amazon and FedEx, and then were stopping passengers. Is that the vision you had for neighborhood safety teams? Not just plain clothes, but dressed to deceive, essentially.

Mayor Adams: Yeah. I don't think you are deceiving bad guys that commit crimes, because bad guys that commit crimes, they deceive us every day. Our Neighborhood Safety Team received very strict direction, I don't know the photos that you're talking about. If they were conducting a certain operation, where they wanted to catch someone off guard that was committing a crime, then I say hooray to them. We need to be creative, as bad guys are creative.

Mayor Adams: We have to get guns off the streets. We have to stop the violence. I'm all straight ahead in doing so, but I'll look at those photos. I don't know exactly what photos you were talking about, but I'll look at them. But the goal of the Neighborhood Safety Team is to overall deal with crime in general, but specifically zero in on the people that have guns. We removed 3,300 guns off the street. This Neighborhood Safety Team was part of that apparatus to remove those guns. Those ladies and gentlemen are doing a great job, and I say, thank you. That's a dangerous job. Going after guns is a dangerous job and they volunteered to be in that unit. So they had my full support. Thank you.


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