A Post about “rapid” DNA evidence analysis being used by law enforcement. Claims include “exoneration of the innocent”

All the efforts in US crime lab science to avoid mishandling and incorrect processing or mis-interpretation of DNA samples may have a new “assist” from the “Rapid DNA” methods now commercially available and in use in a few police departments.  Though strangely, in the first PR article linked below. there isn’t any connection the police managed labs and the police “Rapid-D” being discussed. However, they do claim a “first to submit DNA data”using this method to the feds.

The PR piece is enlightening to say the least. In their pitch. they include a captivating pledge  “to keep communities safer and exonerate innocent suspects.” Bravo.

But if obstinate state and law enforcement  DNA archives and the FBI would start allowing exoneration counsel (i.e. Innocence Network, prison inmates and other legitimate defense counsel) full access to all the “bio-data” they are collecting, then maybe “exoneration of the innocent” would seem less cynical. This includes Arizona. Here is a brand new victory in  Montana where its state law has been changed to improve DNA access. It is a state-by-state battle.

In all this high tech excitement, this biological science modality is only one half of the equation of criminal investigation as it is only the suspect/perp side. This step adds one of two possible bits of information: 1) the suspect has previously left DNA during the commission of an older crime recorded in the FBI database or 2) the suspect was previously arrested. That’s it. So, its an aid for “cold case” resolution. Bravo. But……

Here is the other half of the crime fighting equation. The victims of crime and the crime scene itself. How about applying some “Rapid-D” to these? The PR piece leaves this part out.

Compelling needs for “Rapid-D.”

This “Rapid-D” has equal or greater necessity for the following scenarios.  Why not during victim interviews either at the scene or after a sexual assault during evidence collection (I hope) during a SART (sexual assault response team) exam. Lets make it a triple header by adding postmortem exams by qualified pathologists.

Im sure money is the reason “why not.” Its obvious in the media that crime fighting money and equipment money mostly goes to the police along with their share of asset forfeiture funds and a gazillion pieces of military equipment. Crime lab money? Not so much. Forensic science research? A mere blip, mostly given to small colleges. Forensic pathology: even less. Their numbers are decreasing anyway. Sad but true.

The primary bases of forensic science has always been the transfers of physical evidence between the perp and the crime scene and more modernly, via DNA, the victim. In this new era of “rapid” and so-called “touch” biological evidence, the building of a larger arrestee FBI database sounds great for “cold case” scenarios, but seems to be presented as a new ticket item for all investigations, when actually it is not. Or, not yet.  Because there is a glitch.

“Rapid-D” is being touted this way when crime labs themselves have very publicly shown ongoing glitches and slow processing their own backlogs of victim and crime scene DNA and, to a smaller extent, bumblers or whack jobs working in some labs. While some labs are still struggling, the FBI CODIS database will just get bigger from this “at the police station” resourcing.

To summarize: One system is lagging (crime labs according to media reporting), and the other  is expanding (CODIS). Poor coordination, to say the least. You can do “Rapid-D” all day long, but the goal is to have crime labs in the US uniformly capable of accurately completing their unknown evidence (from crime scenes, etc.) in a timely matter. Regardless of their limitations  in being police-managed and pseudo scientific in approach in some departments.

Back to the reality of now

The PR folks (talking about AZ LE officers entry into the world of DNA) acknowledge that this system (there are more than than one) can achieve a DNA profile of an arrestee in two hours which is then transmitted to the FBI CODIS archive. It is notable in that there is no mention of parallel “Rapid-D” submissions to the local affiliate law enforcement crime lab. Is this a one-way, stand alone, police driven collection and conduit only to the feds?  Maybe not.

My last. A new layer of  concerns regarding proper training, handling, etc., now land onto the custodial LE environment in addition to the crime laboratory environment.

ARIZONA CRIME FIGHTING advances to doing their own DNA in the station

PLEASANTON, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–IntegenX announced today that the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) Crime Laboratory is using Rapid DNA technology to test DNA from qualifying arrestees for upload to the national DNA database. This capability streamlines the current process of DNA profile hit-matching against crime scene evidence, to keep communities safer and exonerate innocent suspects. Samples taken from the arrestees were analyzed using the RapidHIT system, which generated a full DNA profile in under two hours that was subsequently uploaded to the National DNA Index System (NDIS). NDIS is the highest level of the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which is managed by the FBI and enables the exchange and comparison of forensic DNA evidence from violent crime investigations across the US.

“Using advanced technologies such as Rapid DNA will fundamentally change the way law enforcement screens arrestees for links to unsolved crimes”

Vince Figarelli, the Crime Laboratory Superintendent at DPS, said, “This technology has already enhanced Arizona Law Enforcement’s ability to fight crime effectively through generating investigative leads. Now we have the ability to upload an arrestee’s DNA profile within two or three hours of an arrest. We now have the potential to assist other investigations while a suspect is still in custody.”

Full Article.

For those really interested in “rapid-D” here are some more links.

Maybe not the best idea for some. Cops doing their own DNA “rapidly.”

The FBI from 2014. 

The FBI promoting private industry to follow their “vision.” 



About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
This entry was posted in DNA profiling, Forensic Science and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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