Legislative Analyst's Office

Analysis of the 2000-01 Budget Bill
Department of Justice (0820)

Under the direction of the Attorney General, the Department of Justice (DOJ) enforces state laws, provides legal services to state and local agencies, and provides support services to local law enforcement agencies.

Budget Proposal

The budget proposes total expenditures of $532 million for support of the DOJ in the budget year. This amount is $8.1 million, or about 1.5 percent, more than estimated current-year expenditures. The requested amount includes $277 million from the General Fund (an increase of $3.7 million, or 1.4 percent), $100 million from special funds, $37.5 million from federal funds, and $114 million from reimbursements. Major proposed funding increases are discussed below.

Division of Law Enforcement. The Governor's budget proposes $131 million for support of programs in the Division of Law Enforcement. Most of the major budget changes proposed for the division concern the Bureau of Forensic Services (BFS), which operates 11 regional crime labs and a special DNA lab in Berkeley. The budget includes an augmentation of $5.1 million to address DNA workload. This includes funds to reduce the backlog of DNA samples awaiting analysis and to process DNA samples from unsolved cases (referred to as "suspectless" cases). In addition, the budget proposes $2.3 million to replace or upgrade existing forensic lab equipment. The budget also includes $1.2 million in state funds to replace and upgrade surveillance equipment for the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement.

Division of Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS). The budget proposes expenditures of $142 million for programs in the CJIS. This amount includes the continuation of several federally funded initiatives, which support activities such as maintaining criminal history information and a national sex offender registry. The budget also requests $4.1 million from the Fingerprint Fees Account to implement provisions of Chapter 588, Statutes of 1997 (AB 1610, Ortiz), and Chapter 589, Statutes of 1997 (AB 1612, Alby), to support ongoing activities such as managing the statewide electronic fingerprinting network and processing fingerprint background information.

Firearms Division. The department consolidated its firearms programs into a new Firearms Division in the current year. The budget proposes $2.2 million to implement new firearms legislation, which imposed new responsibilities on DOJ. These include assault weapon registration, certifying safety devices, enforcing gun show promoter requirements, and ensuring that mental health facilities report persons ineligible to purchase firearms.

Legal Divisions. The budget proposes $96.1 million for the Civil Law Division. Major changes proposed for the budget year include: (1) an increase of $2.2 million to provide additional supervisory oversight of attorneys and legal assistants; (2) an increase of $1.1 million to represent the state in Hyatt v. Franchise Tax Board, a case concerning the state's taxing authority over nonresidents; (3) an increase of $6 million from the False Claims Act Fund to address increasing False Claim Act litigation; and (4) $3.8 million for the Tobacco Litigation Section for enforcement of the Master Settlement Agreement between the tobacco companies and the states and to defend the state against attacks on the settlement.

The budget requests $85.8 million for the Criminal Law Division. The major changes in this division include an increase of $366,000 to address legal issues related to DNA and $490,000 for the Spousal Abuser Prosecution Program.

For the Public Rights Division, the budget proposes $41.8 million. The amount includes: (1) an increase of $510,000 to provide additional supervisory oversight of attorneys and legal assistants; (2) an increase of $823,000 to address workload related to the enforcement of Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1996; (3) an increase of $411,000 in reimbursement authority for the Land Law Section to address workload increases from the CALFED Bay-Delta Program; and (4) $434,000 in additional reimbursement authority for the Charitable Trust Registry Section to address workload related to Chapter 445, Statutes of 1998 (AB 1810, Davis).

Additional Funding Would Increase DNA Database Effectiveness

We recommend the Legislature approve a $5.5 million augmentation to support increased DNA analysis workload and to improve the effectiveness of the DNA database in assisting criminal investigations. We further recommend the Legislature continue an oversight role over this program by adopting supplemental report language directing the department to report on its progress in expanding the DNA database.

Background. The DOJ is required to analyze DNA samples from most convicted felony sex and violent offenders. In addition, Chapter 696, Statutes of 1998 (AB 1332, Murray) required DOJ to maintain a database (CAL-DNA) of these offenders' DNA profiles.

In the 1999-00 Budget Act, the Legislature appropriated $4.9 million to DOJ for the analysis of the backlog of 55,000 violent offender DNA samples. The funds are also to be used to reanalyze 45,000 samples that had been profiled in order to conform with the standards established for participation in the national DNA offender database. At present, the DOJ DNA lab has analyzed more than 15,000 of the total samples and more than 5,000 are in the state's searchable database. The DOJ recently filled the remaining positions authorized in 1999-00 and estimates that DNA analyses will eventually increase to 12,000 to 15,000 samples per month, which will exceed the goals set for the program.

Although the DNA lab will be able to address the backlog of violent offender DNA sample analysis with the current year appropriation, the DOJ has determined that the number of DNA samples in the 1999-00 workload was underestimated by 20,000, due to an undercount of parolees. In addition, the number of samples submitted to CAL-DNA from counties has doubled from 1,500 to 3,000 samples per month and is expected to double again by 2001.

The department maintains that in order for CAL-DNA to be an effective criminal investigation tool, the DNA lab needs to increase the number of DNA samples from suspectless cases that can be matched to samples in the database of convicted felon DNA samples. However, suspectless cases are rarely examined since the majority of work conducted by forensic labs is on cases with identified suspects where criminalists are asked to determine the existence of an association between the victim and the suspect. The turnaround time for these cases with suspects can exceed six to nine months, resulting in insufficient staff to work on suspectless cases.

Budget Proposal. The budget requests $5.5 million from the General Fund to fund the increase in the DNA analysis caseload. Specifically, DOJ would purchase laboratory equipment and convert 24 limited-term senior criminalist positions, to permanent positions. These positions would analyze the increasing levels of submitted CAL-DNA samples, expand the suspectless DNA sample database, and address the analysis backlog for current suspect cases.

In addition, funds would be used to establish a legal support unit of two deputy attorneys general to provide consultation and training to criminal justice professionals, scientists, and technicians regarding the legal and scientific issues involved with the use of DNA in specific criminal cases.

Request Is Justified. Given the power of DNA testing to solve crimes, we believe that providing funds to address the increase in DNA sample submissions and expanding the suspectless DNA database is an important law enforcement objective and justifies further investment. The proposed increase in funding for equipment and personnel will allow the DNA lab to address existing backlogs, keep pace with legislative requirements, and increase the effectiveness of DNA databases for assisting with criminal investigations.

Because of the importance of this issue, however, we believe that the Legislature should be kept informed of the department's progress in responding to the increased DNA sample submission and expanding the suspectless case database. We therefore recommend the adoption of supplemental report language requiring the department to report to the Legislature on it progress on these issues. The following language is consistent with this recommendation:

The Department of Justice shall report to the Legislature annually, beginning December 1, 2000, on its progress in analyzing submitted DNA samples. The report should include information on the number of DNA samples entered in the database, the number of suspects identified by DNA matches, and the projected number of DNA samples.

Violence Suppression Program Augmentation Not Justified

We recommend the Legislature deny the request for $1 million to hire additional Violence Suppression Program agents to conduct investigations for illegal weapons at gun shows because the request has not been justified on a workload basis. (Reduce Item 0820-001-0001 by $1 million.)

Background. In 1994, DOJ established the Violence Suppression Program (VSP) within the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement (BNE), to coordinate statewide efforts to investigate and apprehend career criminals that use weapons, firearms, and explosives to commit violent crimes. This program currently has 48 agents.

The budget requests $1 million from the General Fund to add seven special agents and an office technician to increase the number of existing VSP teams for the purpose of preventing illegal weapons sales at gun shows throughout the state.

Workload Increase Not Well Defined. The proposal does not establish a need for the additional agents on a workload basis. Little information is provided on the number of agents needed for each gun show operation, how the additional agents will be used, or the workload of the existing agents. The proposal bases its projection of expected workload on a 1999 DOJ investigation into illegal weapons activities at the largest gun show in California, that required 20 special agents over a two-day period. It is not clear that this particular investigation reflects normal workload, especially considering the recent announcement that this particular gun show will no longer be held in California. Furthermore, the workload statistics provided are calculated based on the number of advertised gun shows in California in 1998. It is not clear whether there will be the same number of shows in the budget year or whether DOJ plans to conduct investigations of illegal weapon sales at every gun show.

Local Law Enforcement Involvement Not Clear. The proposal also does not indicate the extent to which local law enforcement personnel have been or will be involved in illegal weapons investigations at gun shows. In the past, VSP agents were responsible for supporting and coordinating multiagency and multijurisdictional investigations concerning illegal weapons. There is no evidence that local law enforcement personnel do not have sufficient resources to conduct individual gun show investigations, with DOJ assuming a statewide coordinating role using existing VSP staff.

Analyst's Recommendation. We recommend denying the request for $1 million to provide additional VSP agents to conduct illegal weapons investigations at California gun shows. These positions have not been justified on a workload basis and the proposal does not address the alternative of utilizing local law enforcement personnel to conduct these investigations.

DOJ Agents for High Technology Crime Program Not Justified

We recommend the Legislature delete the request for $643,000 from the General Fund to create the High Technology Crime Program because the request for additional staff is not justified on a workload basis. (Reduce Item 0820-001-0001 by $643,000.)

Background. In 1997, the Legislature enacted Chapter 906, Statutes of 1997 (SB 438, Johnston), which created the High Technology Theft Apprehension and Prosecution Program. Under this program, regional law enforcement task forces received grants, administered by the Office of Criminal Justice Planning (OCJP), to address high technology-related crimes, such as computer equipment theft, software piracy, and money laundering. In addition, the statute established the High Technology Theft Apprehension and Prosecution Trust Fund. Up to 10 percent of the monies appropriated to this fund are to be allocated for the development and maintenance of a statewide database on high technology crime (maintained by DOJ) for distributing intelligence information to participating law enforcement agencies.

In the 1999-00 Budget Act, the Legislature appropriated $2 million to OCJP for this program. Of this amount, $500,000 was for the development of the high technology crime database within the DOJ and $1.5 million was for the regional task forces. At the time this Analysis was prepared, the task force grants from the current-year appropriation had not been awarded and the $500,000 appropriation for database development has not been transferred to DOJ.

Budget Proposal. The budget proposes $643,000 from the General Fund and $150,000 in reimbursements from the High Technology Fund to establish the High Technology Crime Program within the DOJ. The objective of the program is to coordinate the efforts of law enforcement in combating high technology crime. Specifically, the funds would be used to provide five Bureau of Investigation agents to staff separately funded local regional high technology crime task forces. These positions would provide investigation, enforcement, and computer forensic services. In addition, the requested reimbursement funds from the High Technology Fund would be used to establish two positions to develop and maintain the high technology crime statewide database.

No Demonstrated Need for DOJ Involvement. The proposal indicates that each regional high technology crime task force needs one full-time special agent to address the increase in the high technology crime caseload. However, there is evidence that only one out of the three task forces has experienced an increase in high technology crimes, and that task force has been able to hire additional staff to avoid a backlog of cases. Since the increased current-year appropriation to the High Technology Theft Apprehension and Prosecution Program has not been awarded, it is possible that the larger grant awards will enable local high technology crime task forces to hire sufficient staff to address increases in high technology crime caseloads.

Analyst's Recommendation. We recommend the Legislature delete the request for $643,000 from the General Fund to establish five special agents as staff to regional high technology crime task forces, because there is little evidence that all of the task forces have experienced increases in high technology crime caseloads which cannot be addressed with existing resources. We recommend approval of the proposed reimbursement from the High Technology Trust Fund to continue development of the high technology crime database.

Continuation of Unsolved Homicide Pilot Program Not Justified

We recommend the Legislature deny the request for $249,000 from the General Fund to extend the unsolved homicide pilot program by two years, because the pilot program has yielded limited results and the program is unnecessary due to the expansion of the DNA database. (Reduce Item 0820-001-0001 by $249,000.)

Background. Local law enforcement agencies commit significant resources to solving homicides. Investigators work with both physical evidence obtained from the crime scene and interview all witness "leads." When physical evidence and leads have been fully investigated, but the homicide remains unsolved, the case is placed in an inactive status and evidence collected is stored indefinitely. The DOJ reports that there are more than 8,000 unsolved homicides in California. Inactive homicide cases are known as "old and cold" cases. Currently, DOJ will aid local law enforcement agencies with active cases, by providing crime scene analysis and forensic laboratory tests.

In recent years, there have been a number of technological advances in forensic science. For example, latent fingerprints that had previously been unusable can be made visible with new laser-assisted techniques. In addition, the DOJ's DNA database has been expanded and will have records for all known sex offenders by 2001. Consequently, old serological evidence can now be tested for DNA and matched against known offenders. Finally, the DOJ has developed an automated system for the examination and identification of recovered firearm evidence. All of these techniques and databases have been available for several years, and could be applied to unsolved homicide cases in order to develop new leads and possibly solve the cases.

In the 1998-99 Budget Act, the Legislature appropriated $266,000 from the General Fund to form a two-year pilot team of forensic specialists which would identify and reopen old and cold homicides in Northern California, applying various new forensic techniques (including DNA analysis and latent fingerprint analysis) to stored physical evidence. The team consisted of a special agent, a senior criminalist, and a latent fingerprint analyst.

The Legislature also adopted supplemental report language instructing DOJ to report, by December 31, 1999, on the number of cases investigated, the results of the investigations, which law enforcement agencies received services, and the cost of conducting each investigation. At the time this Analysis was prepared, the report had not been submitted.

Budget Proposal. The budget requests $249,000 from the General Fund to extend the unsolved homicide pilot program by two years. The program would consist of the same three positions approved for the initial pilot, and would continue to investigate the selected old and cold homicide cases.

Pilot Program Yielded Limited Results. The department indicates that since the program was initiated, it has selected 11 homicide cases for review, two of which have been analyzed and resulted in the identification of a suspected perpetrator. The remaining cases are in various stages of forensic analysis, procedural review, and evidence evaluation. The reason for these limited results is that DOJ had difficulty filling the positions during the first year and was not able to fill all positions until the second year of the program. Consequently, the program has been operating with full staff for less than one year.

Unsolved Homicide Program No Longer Necessary. Although investigating unsolved homicides should remain a priority, this program is not the most effective way to meet this goal. A more effective way to identify offenders in old and cold cases would be to match DNA samples from these cases against the DNA database of sex and violent offender samples. The Legislature recognized this in the 1999-00 Budget Act, when it appropriated funds to increase the number of violent offender samples in the DNA database. A separate request in the 2000-01 Governor's Budget, which we recommend the Legislature approve, proposes funds to increase the number of DNA samples in the suspectless case database by hiring additional criminalists to analyze DNA samples. Allocating resources to improve the overall DNA database program is a more cost-effective means of solving unsolved homicides, because building a larger pool of DNA samples will increase the chances of finding a match between the unsolved homicide DNA samples and the DNA databank.

Analyst's Recommendation. We recommend the Legislature deny the proposal to continue the unsolved homicide pilot program because (1) the pilot program has had very limited results and (2) it is more cost-effective to expand the DNA database to investigate unsolved homicides.

No Basis for Augmentation for Rent Increases

We recommend deletion of a proposed augmentation to cover the costs of rent increases in state buildings because we find no analytical basis for granting an adjustment to the department that has been denied virtually all other state agencies. (Reduce Item 0820-001-0001 and various other items by $906,000.)

The budget requests $906,000 from various funds to offset higher rental costs set by the Department of General Services for state buildings in which DOJ is a tenant. The request is based on cost increases that occurred in 1999-00 ($329,000) and are set to occur in 2000-01 ($577,000), for state buildings in Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Oakland.

Our review found that only DOJ and three other agencies--the Departments of Industrial Relations and Fair Employment and Housing, and the State Treasurer's Office--received budget augmentations for rental increases in state buildings. Presumably, all other state departments will absorb the rent increases.

We can find no analytical basis for granting an augmentation to pay for rent increases for these four departments when other departments and agencies are not provided such funds. We note that the administration's own budgeting guidelines indicate that departments will not receive funding for such price increases. Thus, we recommend that the requested augmentation be denied.

We discuss this issue in greater detail in our analysis of the Department of Finance's budget in the "General Government" chapter.

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