Van Hollen Column: A Look Back at the Past Eight Years
By J.B. Van Hollen, Wisconsin Attorney General
Nearly eight years ago, I had the privilege and honor of taking the oath of office as Wisconsin’s 43rd Attorney General, pledging to you to administer our state’s Department of Justice (DOJ) with integrity, adherence to the rule of law, and with a commitment to assist the many dedicated professionals who keep all of us safe.
As I conclude my tenure, I depart this office knowing we’ve made significant contributions toward what I have always considered government’s top priority – public safety.
When I took office, our Wisconsin State Crime Lab was a decades-old problem. In 2007, the Lab had pending 2,000 cases for DNA analysis, with a 200-day turnaround time. Today, we turn around a case for DNA analysis in little more than a month on average, and in urgent cases, analysis may take only days. We worked with the Legislature to add resources to the Lab system. We trained local law enforcement in better evidence collection to ensure they submitted the best possible samples, and we instituted internal efficiencies to improve operations. A highly efficient Lab system has allowed us to look toward implementing “DNA at Arrest” early next year, which is the collection of violent offender suspects’ DNA at booking, and familial DNA testing, which already has identified suspects and resulted in charges in sexual assault investigations, after becoming operational only months ago. Both of these new services will create a safer Wisconsin.
I’ve often said that the DOJ “exists to assist,” and assisting county prosecutors represents a core mission of my administration, which is why, through working with your state legislators, we were able to attain a pay progression plan for Assistant District Attorneys, Deputy District Attorneys, Assistant Public Defenders and Assistant Attorneys General. Retention of experienced prosecutors and public defenders is critical to our criminal justice system.
As important as holding offenders accountable is addressing the needs of their victims. During my term as Attorney General, we have worked hard to ensure a reliable source of funding for local victim service provider programs. For example, the DOJ’s Office of Crime Victim Services received $2 million for the Sexual Assault Victim Services Program as part of the state’s 2013-2015 biennial budget. We also expanded and improved our Sexual Assault Forensic Exam trainings for advocates, hospitals, sexual assault nurse examiners and sexual assault response teams. My multidisciplinary statewide Sexual Assault Response Team identified ways to improve how medical forensic exams are collected and tested. And, we added an Assistant Attorney General as a Violence Against Women Law Enforcement Trainer to assist investigators and prosecutors as they handle the most sensitive of violent crimes facing their communities.
With our local partners, we’ve taken significant steps toward educating our great state about Internet crimes, human trafficking and heroin use, all of which victimize the most vulnerable among us – our children. When I took office in January 2007, the statewide ICAC Task Force had 23 affiliates. Today, we’re a national leader in targeting child predators, and we continue to expand our reach with more than 215 affiliates. We continue to explore new ways to protect Wisconsin residents, through extensive training and resources to more effectively investigate and prosecute cases of human trafficking or through developing new tools to protect our seniors, such as the recently introduced Silver Alert program.
With our “Fly Effect” heroin prevention public awareness campaign, more Wisconsinites better understand how heroin is affecting their neighborhoods and how they can help fight this deadly scourge. Meantime, we also worked with the legislature to expand effective programs, such as the Treatment Alternatives and Diversion (TAD) program. Such programs for non-violent offenders have been proven to reduce recidivism and costs. It’s estimated that for every dollar invested in TAD, it saves the criminal justice system nearly two dollars through averted incarceration and reduced crime.
Protecting Wisconsin goes beyond the brave work of our frontline responders. It includes defending the state’s interests and defending its laws and constitution, or in some cases, recouping for the state and its residents what is rightfully theirs. For example, our consumer protection unit has obtained more than $94 million in judgments and settlements throughout the last eight years, and our annual recoveries for the Wisconsin Medicaid program have grown steadily and significantly, from $533,000 in 2006 to more than $52 million this year. Our Legal Services Division as a whole has issued more than 75 Attorney General opinions, compared to about a dozen in the seven years preceding my two terms in office.
Finally, we’ve worked to provide you, the taxpayer, with the best possible work product, efficiency and customer service. In November 2011, Wisconsin’s concealed carry law took effect. Personnel within our Crime Information Bureau responded quickly to ensure high demands for background checks and concealed carry licenses were met promptly and efficiently. Today, more than 240,000 law-abiding Wisconsinites have concealed carry licenses.
I’m extremely proud of these contributions by the dedicated DOJ staff and of what we’ve been able to accomplish as a community of law enforcement and criminal justice professionals, and as a state. I encourage you to learn more about your Department of Justice at www.doj.state.wi.us, and I sincerely thank you for the opportunity to have served as your Attorney General.