Monday, April 7, 2008

DNA Data Bank

A serial predator is on the loose in Reno, Nevada. He’s already murdered one young victim – 19-year-old Brianna Denison – and DNA evidence connects him to at least two other sexual assaults. As investigators worked to identify this monster, they ran into a huge roadblock. Detectives thought that there might be more attacks linked to the same suspect – and that the predator might be someone who lready has a criminal record. In Nevada, as in most states, every convicted felon must submit a DNA sample. But here’s the problem: in Washoe County, where Reno is located, an estimated 3000 DNA samples were sitting on a shelf, waiting to be analyzed and added to the database. Lack of funds to do all the work had created the backlog. Whether the killer’s DNA was among those 3000 samples – or if they contained evidence matching him to yet another case – the police had no way of knowing. Private citizens, unwilling to accept that, helped raise $160,000 so that the backlog could be cleared. Unfortunately, the answers police needed weren’t in there.

Even more unfortunately, the situation in Washoe County is far from unique. The Justice Department recently admitted that the FBI has a huge backlog of DNA from convicted criminals waiting to be tested – nearly 200,000 samples. And the backlog is growing. There’s no question that the FBI needs more funding for this important job, because I think that we need to expand the bureau’s nationwide DNA data bank, known as CODIS, even further. I’d like to see every state have mandatory collection of DNA from everybody charged with a felony, not just convicted of one. I’d like all of that information in CODIS, so that every law enforcement agency in the country has access to it.

Imagine if there was a national DNA data bank that was up-to-date, not years behind in its work. It would help solve hundreds of crimes – and it would help absolve many accused people of crimes they didn’t commit. We need to be uniformly collecting DNA profiles from both convicted AND accused criminals across the country. And we must make sure that everyone involved, from the FBI to local law enforcement, has all the resources they need to make that happen.

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