Crime-Fighting in the Blood: Hanging tight in the face of bureaucratic impatience
James T. Moore
Commissioner, Florida Department of Law Enforcement
Just five years ago, Florida had a new crime-fighting tool, a DNA database containing samples from convicted sex offenders and murders. But it also had a crisis. Crippled by a lack of funds and staff to manage it, the database was too small to be useful. Only once had the database successfully matched crime scene evidence with a suspect. A state audit suggested that lawmakers consider scrapping the program altogether.
To Tim Moore, Florida’s law enforcement commissioner, killing the database seemed a crime of bureaucratic impatience. Moore knew that, beyond money, the biggest thing this cutting-edge tool needed was time. It would take years for the database to grow to a viable size. And its targets—recidivist criminals—hadn’t yet committed crimes again because most were still behind bars. “The answer is not to just quit now because you don’t have it at 100 percent,” Moore said at the time. “We’re committed to the DNA database. It will make a difference.”
In 1995, Moore persuaded lawmakers to hang tight. Not only did they boost the database’s funding but they expanded the list of crimes for which convicts had to give blood samples. The results have been impressive. With some 60,000 samples, Florida’s DNA database is today considered the nation’s best. Already, it has helped in more than 300 investigations. Of all the suspect matches made from DNA databases around the country, more than one-third came from Florida alone.
Moore’s embrace of new techniques and technologies—often before their time has come—has been a hallmark of his 11 years as Florida’s top crime-fighter. It is a major reason why Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement is today one of the most advanced and respected in the nation. While not a scientific whiz himself, Moore trusts those on his staff who are. And he throws his weight behind good ideas when he sees them. “He’s an entrepreneurial public manager who takes risks, but not inordinate risks,” says Dominic Calabro, president of the nonpartisan Florida Tax Watch. “He knows just how far to push.”
No doubt Moore knows the department he leads as well as anyone ever could. He has spent his entire 26-year career at FDLE, working up the ladder at almost every job available (he started as a data entry clerk working nights in college). That head-to-toe familiarity with FDLE came in handy a few years back as Moore set out to restructure his agency around a performance measurement model.
At the time, the legislature was just starting to phase in its new system of performance-based budgeting. While many agency heads feared the change, Moore volunteered to make FDLE one of the first to go. The shift, in his view, was to be seen not as a threat but an opportunity. Moore flattened the department’s chain-of-command, and gave regional directors more autonomy. To ensure accountability, he signed performance contracts between himself and his managers. As other state agencies now make the transition themselves, they are looking to FDLE as a model.
Meanwhile, other law enforcement agencies are watching what Moore does on the next crime frontier: computer crime. Long before the Internet gave criminals a new outlet, Moore made Florida the first state to create a forensic unit to pluck crime evidence out of their hard drives. Now, FDLE has set up a computer crime center with agents, analysts and computer experts dedicated solely to pursuing criminals who use modems rather than guns. “Whether it’s someone’s server getting hacked in to, or his identity getting stolen, computer crime will be the crack cocaine of the 2000s,” Moore says. “The time to worry about it is not when you’re up to your eyeballs in it.”
— Christopher Swope
Photo by Phil Sears