Rep. Adam Schiff on Preserving Nature Areas and Use of Familial DNA

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Congressman Adam Schiff

On 28 February Burbank N Beyond’s John Savageau had the opportunity to interview Representative Adam Schiff from the 29th District, encompassing Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, and surrounding areas, in his Washington D.C. office.  This is the fifth and final article in a series highlighting activities and topics of interest to Burbank.

BurbankNBeyond: Are there any interesting projects you are involved in that would be of interest to readers in Burbank, projects they may not have been exposed to?

Rep. Schiff:  Actually, the most interesting work I do isn’t work I can share with constituents as it’s in the intelligence community.  But some of the other things we’ve been working on for some time, we’d love to have input and output from the residents on, and I’ll give one example.

Some years ago I wrote a bill called “Rim of the Valley  Core Study Act,” which studies the rim of the valley mountains, the Verdugo Mountains, among other mountain ranges, and ask the Department of the Interior, and Department of Agriculture to study should some of those mountain ranges be part of the national park, in this case the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area.

That study is going on, and the department is inviting public comment and feedback.  The Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area, which I wish had a different name because it makes people think Santa Monica, but it’s the largest urban park in the country, it’s very heavily utilized, and congress had the foresight back in the early 1970s to create that park.

LA is becoming built up, we are encroaching more and more on open space near us, and I’d like to see that we have the same foresight that congress did several decades ago.  We need to try to preserve that open space.  I don’t know how many folks are aware of that study going on, but it could be very important for their future, and their kids – whether they’ll be able to continue to see beautiful mountains, hike up there, maybe spot a mountain lion or other wildlife.

But those who care about open space I would encourage to get in touch with the Department of the Interior and we can help facilitate that, and let them know we care about open space and encourage them to reflect those priorities in their analysis.

BurbankNBeyond:  Any other interesting projects?

Rep. Schiff:  Let me mention one other thing your readers might be interested in.

For many years I’ve done a lot of work in the area of DNA.  To understand the use of DNA to solve cold cases and crime cases.  In the next month or two we’re going to have a ribbon-cutting in Glendale for a regional DNA lab that we got to fund.

That (DNA lab) will be able to serve communities like Burbank, Glendale, and Pasadena, which otherwise had to go through the county, and long waits to get DNA evidence back from the labs.

Related, I introduced legislation that I raised with the Attorney General (who) is testifying today, that is to expand the use of what’s called “Familial DNA.” That is a process that is really quite new.

In California we used to find a serial killer you probably read about.  This is somebody who killed people over a two decade span.  He was called the “Grim Sleeper” because there was a long period where police thought he had gone to sleep, and effectively was not in the murder business and re-emerged.

They couldn’t catch him, even though they had ample DNA, of his, from the victims.  But, there was no match in the system because he had never been arrested, or if he had been arrested they never got his DNA.

As a last resort they (police) did a familial search , which means you search for DNA that’s in the database that’s very similar, but not precisely the same.

If you find very similar DNA, you know two things about the person.  You know they are not the culprit, because it’s (the DNA) not identical.  But you also know they (the person providing DNA) may be closely related to the culprit.

And in this case they got a hit on the serial killer’s son who was in the database.  He had a criminal record.  So once they identified a family member of the killer it wasn’t long before they identified the killer.

That case would still be unsolved if they hadn’t used familial DNA.   We were lucky in that case because the son lived in the same state, California.  Because California allows familial search of its database.

The federal government does not allow a familial search of its database.  The federal database is much bigger.  So if the son had been arrested in Nevada, the Grim Sleeper would still be at large.

I have a bill to establish a national protocol so we can do a familial search as a search of last resort.

BurbankNBeyond:  You don’t believe there will be any opposition that would be a violation of an individual’s 4th Amendment rights?

Rep. Schiff:  There may be opposition, and certainly we have to educate people about what Familial DNA is about.  It’s not about arresting family members that are completely innocent in a search for somebody who isn’t.

But it is an important tool that needs to be used carefully, and it may have to have privacy protections in, so that any family member’s DNA is matched, and doesn’t suffer any stigma as a result of their DNA being matched, and protocols for the purging of records after an investigation, and other important steps.

So our legislation will require that states have in place a policy that protects a person’s privacy the same way that we do in California.  California’s only one of a couple states that allow it right now.  But I think California has demonstrated that it can be done appropriately, and with great effect.

I’d like to make sure we have that capacity federally as well.

BurbankNBeyond:  Should residents contact your office to voice their approval or support of that bill?

Rep. Schiff:  I would welcome it, and we have a website at www.house.gov/schiff, and they can email me their thoughts.  We also have a weekly newsletter they can sign up for on the website.  So I’d encourage all the above!

    Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center