October 16, 2012 -
In 1981 Jerry Miller was arrested and charged with the kidnapping, brutal rape and robbing of a woman in Chicago and In 1982 he was convicted. He was only 22 and spent the next two decades of his life in prison. Thanks to DNA testing, Miller was finally exonerated for a crime he didn’t commit and another man was implicated as the perpetrator 24 years later, in 2007.
At the time, Miller represented the 200th DNA exoneration in the United States, a number that continues to grow thanks to scientific research and innovation.
Long wait times, high costs, limited resources and cumbersome processes and technology have made DNA analysis relatively inaccessible to many law enforcement agencies to date. But recently emerging standalone sample-to-answer products such as the RapidHIT 200 system by IntegenX, boasting rugged, portable and rapid DNA analysis claim to offer the time savings, cost reductions and ease-of-use solutions needed to increase adoption in law enforcement agencies.
“Police and forensics labs will be able to get standard DNA profiles from just a cheek swab, in less than 90 minutes,” IntegenX CEO, Stevan Jovanovich said at a press conference formalizing the U.S. launch of the RapidHIT 200.
“Law enforcement has been waiting for this system for a long time.” Speaking at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) in San Diego, Jovanovich demonstrated the RapidHIT 200 and boasted of its assets for the law enforcement community.
Benefits of this kind of on-the-spot DNA analysis for law enforcement agencies include the ability to ensure only those guilty of their crimes are convicted, easily identify victims and criminals and to reduce the strain on resources devoted to questionably-effective intuitive crime solving methods – not to mention scientific lab analysis of DNA samples and the already over-crowded prison system.
In a recent feature published in the FBI’s National Academy Associate magazine, the Palm Bay Police Department’s use of Rapid DNA technology in Florida is profiled, showing many positive signs and indications of success.
“Investigating property crimes uses considerable law enforcement resources, manpower and time. It is also problematic that often these investigations are not provided ‘high-powered’ resources and are mostly limited to intuitive methods that can be incorrect, resulting in wasted resources following false leads. Lacking a tool like DNA analysis for investigation has resulted in a low clearance rate, about 15% nationwide.”
Though Rapid DNA technology is a major advancement for law enforcement, there are many roadblocks to consider before adoption of this technology is widespread.
First of all, in order for the RapidHIT 200 system to be most effective, it requires a large database of DNA profiles, and as it doesn’t yet connect to any large Federal or state databases, profiles are localized, limiting the size of the selection available for comparison. As Biometric Update reported last month, this is because the DNA Identification Act of 1994 gave the FBI the authority to establish its own DNA index system, but only covers the use of accredited DNA labs in use today, not anticipating portable internet-connected rapid DNA equipment.
“It’s going to start first as local databases, and then plug in to State and then National databases and there’s a whole validation procedure,” Jovanovich said during the IACP press conference, assuring that the FBI does have the intent of ultimately linking these databases together over the next couple of years.
Another consideration complicating law enforcement’s adoption of Rapid DNA systems is the idea of creating a continuously-growing database of DNA profiles for reference. This would most likely require mandatory collection of DNA samples upon arrest, a practice that many, including the ACLU, consider a constitutional invasion of privacy in contradiction to prevailing “innocent until proven guilty” judicial ideologies and the 4th amendment of the U.S constitution.
Denver Colorado District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, also present at the IACP press conference, argues that law enforcement has a large state interest in quickly knowing the precise identity of the person they’ve arrested, reducing a strain on resources but also in ensuring the right person is being arrested.
“There is a very substantial State interest that law enforcement has in knowing who the person is that is being arrested and what they’re responsible for and what their true identity is. That [interest] gets weighed against the taking of a cheek swab, because that’s the intrusion under the fourth amendment,” Morrissey said. “I believe this technology will hopefully be argued in those cases. The ability to do this within 90 minutes will change the whole legal argument when it comes to the constitutionality of taking DNA upon arrest.”
There are currently 26 States in the United States that collect DNA upon arrest. According to a recent article on npr, more states are poised to follow suit.
As reported by Politico, in 2010, President Barack Obama spoke out in favour of collecting DNA at the time of an arrest, facilitating a single national database.
“This is where the national registry becomes so important,” Obama said. “What you have is individual states – they may have a database, but if they’re not sharing it with the state next door, you’ve got a guy from Illinois driving over into Indiana, and they’re not talking to each other.”
“Legislation currently allows collection of DNA upon arrest in more than half of the states in the US, a trend indicating that faster DNA analysis is necessary,” said Jovanovich. “We’ve also seen early adoption of rapid DNA analysis by the Palm Bay Police Department and other US government agencies in security, law enforcement and defense — all positive signs that RapidHIT will gain traction quickly in the near future.”