Detroit, for years, used election vendor accused of poll worker data breach in Los Angeles

Berman: Prosecutor's well-heeled posse is game-changer

Laura Berman
The Detroit News

If you need proof that post-bankruptcy Detroit is a more functional place than it was before Chapter 9, take a good look at the alliance announced this week between the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, the Michigan Women's Foundation and the Detroit Crime Commission, a privately funded anti-crime initiative.

All three groups are uniting to solve the backlog of untested rape kits discovered five years ago in a Detroit police storage unit. Since Worthy and her investigators announced the abandoned kits, the prosecutor has become an expert on a previously unknown problem: rapists who can be convicted with DNA evidence roaming free while rape kit evidence is untested and warehoused.

While sample testing proved fruitful in Detroit — 15 rapists have been convicted and 188 serial rapists identified since 2009 — it is also ferociously expensive. Millions of state and federal dollars were tapped, but thousands of kits and potential cases remained.

Worthy, a relentless champion for this cause, kept going. Years of networking finally paid off last May on Mackinac Island.

Detroit Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins had connected Worthy with David Egner, CEO and president of the Hudson Webber Foundation, a few weeks before. Egner knew that most foundations were unlikely to fund rape kit testing — it's not their mission — and suggested enlisting foundations to bolster the Michigan Women's Foundation's ability to take on the job.

In the foundation world, this is called "building capacity" — funding staff or equipment needs to enable an organization to grow. And the Michigan Women's Foundation, supported by thousands of professional women, was a logical fit.

On the Grand Hotel's famous porch, Egner pulled together Carolyn Cassin, Michigan Women's Foundation CEO and president, who had expressed interest, and Andy Arena, executive director of the Detroit Crime Commission. Half an hour later, Worthy had a coalition to raise $10 million, safeguard the funds and provide additional resources, from data analysis to emergency witness protection.

For Cassin, who had returned to Detroit in 2008, the Enough SAID (Sexual Assault in Detroit) partnership fulfills her organization's mission to be transformative. "I want to see us solve problems, not just give away money to women's groups, as we had in the past," she says.

The effort is a triumph for Worthy's cause and for the thousands of women whose cases had been dumped in a locked storage room for years. And it raises hope that the Michigan Women's Foundation can become a force for women's safety and women's rights in the future.

But it's also a sign of these new times, when over-burdened government seeks help from other sources and — most importantly — gets it. When philanthropists like Cassin and Egner reach well beyond their mission statements and protocols to find solutions.

"I might have asked in the old days," Worthy said Wednesday, "but I don't know that I would have been successful. "

For years, Detroit leaders have been talking about the need to become more entrepreneurial, more nimble, more collaborative. This is one more example (think grand bargain) that we're getting there.

Enough said.