Washington AG’s office IDs hundreds of sex offenders who failed to give up DNA
It is arguably the most valuable thing a sex offender has to offer: their DNA. That’s why those required to register as sex offenders are also required to submit a DNA sample.
But, as Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office found out, hundreds of registered sex offenders in the state are skipping out on those orders, potentially leaving the public at risk.
“This has been a long standing effort in my office to collect this DNA from serious criminal offenders throughout our state. And remarkably, there are many hundreds, if not thousands of individuals who have not provided that DNA, which is so critical, of course, for capturing bad guys, solving crimes, and getting accountability for victims all across our state,” explained Ferguson, referencing his lawfully owed DNA project.
Ferguson, whose office has played a pivotal role in rape kit reforms in our state, received a $2.5 million grant in 2019 from the Justice Department to fund the project.
“We were very involved in recent years in solving the backlog of untested rape kits, so we’re using grant funds for that purpose,” Ferguson explained.
“Right now, in Washington state, what we discovered was more than 600 registered sex offenders did not provide that DNA that is legally required,” Ferguson said. “And these are individuals, out of all the individuals out there in our state, who most certainly you want to have their DNA in the system.”
The team was able to first identify the 635 sex offenders who failed to provide samples. Then, as law enforcement that partnered with the AG’s office did the boots on the ground work, they determined DNA for roughly 250 of the people on the list could not be collected because they had either died, or had moved out of the area and their whereabouts were unknown.
At the same time, Ferguson says they were able to collect 345 DNA samples from these offenders and get them into the national database, Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
“It’s a database of DNA. And so if, for example, they go to that database and see if they get a match with the DNA from the crime scene,” explained Ferguson, calling it a vital tool to solving murders, rapes, and other serious crimes.
But it does more than that.
“That CODIS database is only as good as the information you put into it,” he explained. “And so we discovered we had more than 600 registered sex offenders in our state, whose DNA had never gone into that database, which is truly outrageous. But it is critically important to solve crimes and to get accountability. And, frankly, to assist victims of crimes so the perpetrators are held accountable.”
“And, really, this cuts both ways having a good database because DNA [can] be input that can actually help solve crimes where someone is accused of a crime they didn’t commit,” Ferguson explained. “And having a good database means that person maybe escaped the penalty. They shouldn’t suffer because they’re actually innocent. So it cuts both ways in solving crimes, but also making sure innocent people don’t get convicted.”
A handful of jurisdictions still need to collect the DNA on their respective lists, with Snohomish County having the most outstanding (45). The county collected just half of the total 100 DNA samples it needed to collect from offenders.
KIRO Radio’s request for an ETA on completion or details on any challenges in collecting those DNA samples was unanswered.
“What we need are two things, one, to finish this project to collect the DNA of all these registered sex offenders,” Ferguson said. “And number two, to create a system moving forward so we don’t create this backlog. We don’t want to create a system that allows research centers to ignore their legal obligation to provide DNA.”