wwthe rapist might have thought he’d gotten away with the vicious crime. Although he was serving time for robbery, the cops had never nailed him for an earlier offense, a 1994 attack on a teenage girl. And after seven years, he might have thought they never would.

Wrong. On March 9, 2001, Lori Gaglione, a detective in the Milwaukee police department’s sexual assault unit, got a call from the crime lab linking that man to the rape. The call also proved that, thanks to an ingenious program Gaglione had developed, the police could nab many more creeps who think they’ve gotten away with rape. “They can’t hide!” says the elated 17-year veteran of the force.

Gaglione’s program combines high-tech science with shrewd legal maneuvering. When a woman is sexually assaulted, specially trained nurses or doctors prepare a rape kit, collecting any evidence–blood, semen, pubic hair samples–that the attacker has left behind. The crime lab can then analyze that evidence for DNA–the genetic coding we carry in every cell of our bodies. When a victim can pick out her attacker from mug shots or provide enough of a description for the cops to track him down, that suspect’s DNA is compared to the evidence from the rape kit. If there is a match, the police know they have their man: With the exception of identical twins, no two people on earth have the same DNA.

What happens, though, when detectives can’t find anyone matching the victim’s description? Or a woman is so terrified that she can’t remember what her attacker looked like? Then the case goes into an “inactive” file. If her attacker later gets picked up on another sexual assault, detectives can dig out the rape kit and check to see whether the guy is also a match for the old crime.

Cases didn’t stay inactive forever, however. After six years (for sexual assault crimes), they were being taken off the books and closed. “I hated that,” Gaglione says. “But without an outstanding arrest warrant, there was nothing I could do about it.” Or was there? In 1999 Gaglione pushed for local prosecutors to issue “John Doe” warrants in unsolved cases of sexual assault. These warrants would go out not under a suspect’s name but under his DNA profile. Once a warrant was issued, the case could not be closed.

“Lori really pressed me to do this,” acknowledges Milwaukee Assistant District Attorney Norm Gahn, who finally agreed to try the plan. Now any suspect charged with a felony in Wisconsin is required to give a skin scraping for testing, and his DNA is checked against outstanding John Doe genetic profile warrants. Because sex criminals tend to be repeat offenders, it’s likely that many will be nailed by their own DNA.

That’s what happened to the rapist last March–the department’s first success under the new program. Arrested in 1996 on a robbery charge, the man gave a DNA sample that allegedly matches him to a particularly vicious case: A 15-year-old girl had been kidnapped at gunpoint from a city bus stop and violently assaulted (charges are pending). “I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to bring closure for this woman–and for all victims,” Gaglione says. “They can feel safe again.”

Mother of a six-year-old son and pregnant with her second child, Gaglione was working undercover in narcotics when she met her husband, Donald, a police lieutenant. But it’s her current investigative work that she finds most rewarding. “I love to see a case through from beginning to end,” Gaglione says. Now that her John Doe warrants are getting results–and are being adopted in police departments around the country–she’s sure to see the end of many more cases.

Homemaker to the troops

Ann M. Testa Colonel, United States Air Force

As budgets shrink, military housing has become severely dilapidated. When Ann Testa arrived as commander at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu in 1997, she learned that it could take up to 30 years for the government to ante up any renovation money. “Active-duty people work their hearts out for the Air Force, yet their spouses and children live in substandard housing,” Testa says. “I felt we had to do something.” That “something” was to organize more than 400 volunteers, most of them base residents, to renovate homes themselves. Testa herself joined in–“sometimes laying tile, sometimes delivering pizza to the people who were working.” During her two-year tenure at the base, the volunteers totally renovated 337 homes and improved another 1,753 kitchens and bathrooms.

Disease detective

Myra Ching-Lee Epidemiological Specialist, Department of Health, State of Hawaii

Speed is critical when health officials are dealing with an outbreak of an infectious disease. A day or two can mean the difference between life and death, especially for the most vulnerable members of a population–the very young and the very old. It is that gap that Myra Ching-Lee has closed in Hawaii. Her sophisticated electronic monitoring system, seven years in development, allows doctors, laboratories, and hospitals to alert public health authorities immediately to potentially devastating illnesses, replacing a haphazard system of handwritten, manually transmitted reports. “Such substantial improvements in … reporting could enhance disease-control measures,” noted the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association.

Giving parents a voice

Elaine Zimmerman Executive Director, Connecticut Commission on Children

Providing services for families is important. But training parents to become effective advocates for their children ultimately helps more kids. That’s why Elaine Zimmerman founded the Parent Leadership Institute, which invites parents to learn the intricacies of government policy-making as well as writing and advocacy skills. Signs of the school’s success: Two mothers have earned seats on the city council in Stamford, Connecticut; another took on her local government when it violated its city charter by closing a school.

Nimble negotiator

Marcia de Braga Nevada State Assemblywoman

mdbFor nearly a century, fights over the rights to water from the Truckee River have divided Nevada residents. Farmers, ranchers, federal officials, utility managers, and municipal leaders have all been pitted against each other, spawning thousands of lawsuits. “I felt it just had to be settled,” says Assemblywoman Marcia de Braga. With humor, tact, and extraordinary patience, she brought all the parties to the table–and kept them there–as she hammered out a settlement that compensated groups and individuals for past grievances and allocated water rights for the future. It was an accomplishment the Reno Gazette-Journal summarized in just one word: “miracle.”

Assault on abuse

Margaret W. Patten Colonel, Baltimore Police Department

When, in 1990, Baltimore officials asked for a police representative to the new city task force on domestic violence, the chief chose Margaret Patten. “I’m sure he was thinking, `We can’t put a man in there, so let’s send Patten,'” says the officer, who is known for her wry humor as well as her work on behalf of abused women. Patten’s approach has been comprehensive, including officer training to guide victims to help and most recently, recognition that police need to follow up on incidents of animal abuse–often a warning of family violence to come. “We need to pay attention to any sign that things are not right in a home,” Patten says. “If we get in there early, we can do some good.”

Health champion

Nancy Cobb Director of Policy and Planning for Indiana’s Family and Social Services Program

Congress created the State Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997, enabling states to offer health coverage to the working poor. These families often fall between the cracks because they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid yet not enough to afford private insurance. But while some states have not enrolled a single child in the program, Nancy Cobb saw to it that Indiana enrolled kids by the thousands. Her secrets: aggressive marketing “anywhere eligible families might be found,” she says, and enlisting community groups, doctors, and hospitals to help families apply. “Nancy is simply tireless on behalf of children,” Cobb’s supervisor notes.

Teens’ angel

Paulette Irons Louisiana state senator

When Paulette Irons campaigns to reduce teen pregnancy, she knows better than most what is at stake. Irons gave birth to her own daughter at age 16, and though she managed to graduate third in her high school class and go on to college, law school, and a career in government, she knows what young unmarried mothers are up against. “My history could have been a negative in my career,” Irons says, “but I decided to make it an asset.” She conducted Louisiana’s first significant study of teen pregnancy and has drawn numerous groups–from churches to the media–into creative efforts to help. Since her campaign began, Louisiana has moved from forty-ninth in the United States in the number of teen births to a still-sobering but improved (“and still improving,” Irons says) forty-second. She is also succeeding in her other favorite cause: encouraging women to enter public service. She herself defeated the Louisiana political machine to win office, and today her recruitment efforts have doubled the number of women in the state legislature.

Clearing the air for kids

Martha M. Escutia California state senator

Children are far more vulnerable than adults to many toxins, scientists say. Yet most states still set environmental standards based on what is safe for the average, 180-pound adult male. Not California. In 1996, when students at an elementary school near a chrome-plating plant fell ill, State Senator Martha Escutia decided the standards had to be changed. Today, she laughs at her naivete: “I thought it would be pretty easy to get the bill passed. It seemed common sense to me.” But business groups leaned hard on legislators to stop the effort. Escutia garnered her own support, including that of the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. When the Children’s Environmental Health Act finally passed last year, Escutia was thrilled. “This is the most important work I’ve done in the state legislature,” she says, “the thing I am proudest of.”

Women’s history channeler

Diane Allen New Jersey state senator

To read most history books, you would think that only men developed our nation. “The women’s stories haven’t been told,” says State Senator Diane Allen, who in 1997 spearheaded legislation to form a Women’s Heritage Trail, commemorating the contributions of women to New Jersey’s history. The trail will note key sites such as Paulsdale, birthplace of Alice Paul, the author of the first Equal Rights Amendment proposal, and a founder of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage. When completed, the trail will serve researchers, students, and tourists. The fight for funding was tough. “Most of the key committee chairs weren’t too interested in women’s history,” notes Allen, a five-year veteran of the New Jersey legislature. But she stuck to her bipartisan game plan (Allen, a Republican, swept her last election in a district that votes three to one Democrat), and in late 1999 the legislation for funding the trail became law. “Now the residents of New Jersey will know the other half of their history,” says Allen, who’s earned a place in women’s history herself.