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Ballot Measure 62: 'The Oregon: C.S.I. Measure'

Measure 62 would amend the Oregon constitution and commit 15 percent of lottery profits to a public safety fund.

The money would be used for state police investigation, aid to ‘at-risk’ children, and county law enforcement.

As Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, it’s becoming known as: “The Oregon: C.S.I. Measure.”

Inside the Oregon State Crime Lab there’s a wall of freezers containing blood, semen and fluid samples. There’s a row of lab tables with microscopes and computers. And in a room to the side, forensic scientist, Chrystal Bell, snaps on latex gloves to paw over a blue bed spread.

Chrystal BellChrystal Bell: “I have a piece of evidence here and this is from an assault case and I’ll be taking a look at visually examining this blanket and looking for blood.”

Kristian: “So you’ve got a massive table here, with big lights hanging over the top and a ladder and you can just kind of lean-over and look at it really closely.”

Chrystal Bell: “Exactly.”

Finding a smear of rusty brown, she takes a white cotton swab and rubs it on the stain. A special chemical makes the swab fluoresce pink and she knows, she’s found blood. 

The sample will be used to provide a DNA profile — at a cost of about $1000 — and detectives hope that profile will match their suspect.

With serious crimes like assault or murder, DNA tests can be run within a few days. But for less serious offenses, like robbery or burglary, detectives often have to wait 8 months for results.

Randy Wampler, of the Oregon State Police, can't take an official position on a  ballot measure, as a state employee.  But he says, more money would help them reduce the backlogs.

Randy Wampler: “There are numerous things we could do with more. More evidence collection assistance, more crimes that we could assist with and certainly once you have more assistance in the laboratory, law enforcement agencies know that they can submit more evidence.”

The TV series, C.S.I., has focused a lot of attention on forensics. Indeed, Measure 62 has become known as “Oregon CSI” because half the money it would divert, would go to state criminal investigations and forensics. 

Chief petitioner, Kevin Mannix, says backlogs aren’t even his biggest concern.

Kevin Mannix: “We’re talking about… a lack of investigation into certain crimes, simply because the resources don’t exist.”

He wants detectives working Class B and C misdemeanors —  like car thefts — to routinely use  the kind of DNA tests now reserved for more serious cases.

But Measure 62 isn’t just about ‘Oregon-C.S.I.’

If passed, 15 percent of the money would be spent on more District Attorneys.   20 percent would be for at risk kids. And the final 15 percent would go to counties and their sheriff’s offices — to supplement investigations.

Mannix says the money would be a lifeline for rural counties.

Kevin Mannix: “It turns out this ballot measure will be a safety net for those counties, where at least they’ll have some basic resources for the sheriff’s operations and the district attorney’s operations, which they would not otherwise have as these federal timber dollars are lost.”

Steve Novick: “This money in Mr Mannix’s measure would go to all counties, regardless of whether they’re losing timber money.”

Steve Novick is fighting Measure 62 on behalf of ‘The Defend Oregon Coalition,’

Steve Novick: “So in fact, it would make it harder for the state in this next budget to send more money specifically to the counties that will be most affected by the loss of federal timber money.”

But quite apart from timber money, Novick says state government funds three things: schools, healthcare and law enforcement.

Steve Novick: “If you take money out of one to give to another, you’re hurting Peter to pay Paul.”

And Novick has one other bone to pick. He points out that the state just paid for a brand new crime lab in 2004.

Steve Novick: “The truth is, that there’s hardly any part of state government that’s doing as well as the crime lab. And I’ve got to think that is pure Neilsen rating politics, if Baywatch were the most popular show on TV I guess that Kevin Mannix would be giving $100 million to lifeguards.”

Slicing out percentages of the lottery fund for dedicated purposes is not a new idea. In 1995 voters put 18 percent aside for education – in perpetuity.

A few years later they dedicated another 15 percent to parks – that slice will sunset in 2014.

There is one other issue that the two sides of Measure 62 are fighting about. Supporters say the lottery grows 17 percent each biennium – so slicing 15 percent out won’t make much difference.

Opponents say that growth won’t happen this time around because of the smoking ban for bars that starts January 1st. They say there are basically two types of lottery players – smokers and chain smokers.

If voters pass Measure 62, it will go into effect next summer.

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