Honored for expanding DNA database and creating Child Abuse Response Team

By Tom Blakey

Transcript Staff Writer

Sen. Jonathan Nichols, R-Norman, recently was honored by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation with the Director's Award for Exemplary Service.

Nichols said he was "taken aback" by the award, which he didn't expect.

"I'm honored to have received this award and certainly didn't expect it," Nichols said. "It certainly motivates me to continue working hard in this area."

Nichols, who was elected to the state Senate in 2000, was honored for numerous measures that have given the OSBI tools to fight crime more effectively and provide a more rapid response to crimes against Oklahoma's most vulnerable citizens, including children, officials said.

OSBI spokesperson Jessica Brown praised Nichols for his efforts to make the state "a safer place to live, work and raise a family."

"Sen. Nichols has been a great champion for law enforcement and specifically the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation," she said. "His efforts to help us fight crimes against children and solve cold cases through expanding the DNA data base have proven invaluable to law enforcement and the safety of our state as a whole."

In addition to increasing funding to OSBI, Nichols authored two key laws that empowered the OSBI to better investigate child abuse cases as well as other violent cases that had gone cold because of lack of leads or evidence, officials said.

In 2005, Nichols authored Senate Bill 646, which authorized the OSBI to collect DNA from individuals convicted of felony offenses. Previously, collections for the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) were only authorized for 40 particular felony crimes. According to the OSBI, Senate Bill 646 has directly resulted in the identification of suspects in 85 different investigations which were unsolved prior to the passage of the legislation.

"I had hoped the legislation would be useful, but even I'm surprised at the impact it's had in a short amount of time," Nichols said.

Nichols has filed legislation this session that would expand the DNA database even further by requiring persons who are convicted of certain violent misdemeanors, such as assault and battery, domestic violence and stalking, to submit DNA samples.

"If we can get this passed, I think we'll see the level of cold hits increased even more," Nichols said.

Nichols also was recognized for the Child Abuse Response Team (CART) that was created through legislation he authored in 2006.

Senate Bill 1800 established CART within the OSBI, for the purpose of investigating physical and sexual child abuse. CART is a team of child abuse professionals called in to address emergency child abuse cases throughout the state.

Since Jan. 1, 2007, the OSBI has investigated 102 cases of child abuse, involving 120 victims.

"CART has already been utilized to investigate not only crimes against children but also used to interview children who have been witnesses in other crimes such as homicides," said Dewade Langley, director of the OSBI.

OSBI is responsible for investigating crimes ranging from murder to public corruption. The agency's jurisdictional authority is triggered when local law enforcement or the attorney general's office requests its involvement in investigating a crime.

In 2007, Nichols led the effort to increase funding to the OSBI which enabled Langley to hire additional agents and increase the salaries of senior agents.

Nichols said it's an honor to be recognized for his contributions to the law enforcement community.

"Our law enforcement officials put their lives on the line to keep Oklahoma safe, and their dedication to fighting on our behalf should never go unnoticed. I will remain committed to preserving and strengthening the ability of Oklahoma law enforcement to investigate and prosecute criminals," Nichols said.

Tom Blakey 366-3540 tblakey@normantranscript.com