Spending on forensic, missing persons DNA biometrics database programs to grow

February 14, 2014 - 

The Biometrics Research Group, Inc. estimates that law enforcement spending on forensic DNA databases throughout North America will total approximately $750 million in 2015.

We project that increasing spending in the DNA biometrics modality will occur due to increased interest surrounding the resolution of missing persons cases.

On any given day, there are over 100,000 active missing persons cases in the U.S. and there are approximately 40,000 human remains in medical examiner offices across the country. The Bureau of Justice Statistics has estimated that, in a typical year, medical examiners and coroners handle approximately 4,400 unidentified human decedent cases, one thousand of which remain unidentified after one year. In Canada, over 19,000 adults and 46,000 children were reported missing in 2011. Due to these statistics and the stunning impact on society that they represent, there has been a push for more resources to assist families and police forces.

In 2013, police chiefs across Canada lobbied the federal government to move forward with a national missing persons and unidentified human remains DNA index. This week, the government promised to commit $8.1 million in its latest budget, for five years starting in 2016-2017, and another $1.3 million per year on a continuing basis, to create a DNA-based missing persons index that will match DNA from missing persons and unidentified remains to information in the country’s national DNA Data Bank.

The DNA Data Bank is designed to improve the administration of justice by contributing to the early identification of those who commit serious crimes.  The system helps linking crimes where there are no suspects, helps to identify and eliminate suspects, and helps determine if serious crimes are serial in nature.  Last year, $5.3 million was spent to maintain Canada’s DNA Data Bank.

Canada also recently spent money to establish a public Web site entitled “Canada’s Missing”, which contains information on missing children, missing persons, and unidentified remains cases. Most these efforts mimic those which have been undertaken in the United States and have emerged due to public pressure placed on Canada’s federal government to resolve cases surrounding over 500 missing Aboriginal women.

In 2004, more than half of medical examiners’ offices in the U.S. had no policy for retaining records of unidentified human remains, including x-rays, DNA or fingerprints. This made comparison of records across jurisdictions very difficult, causing medical examiners to call for a nationwide system in 2005 that would provide a comprehensive resource to help identify missing people.

In 2007, the U.S. Government responded by creating an electronic registry to assist in cases of missing and unidentified persons.  The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, is a free, online resource that can be used by medical examiners, coroners, law enforcement officials, and the general public as an investigative tool.

The tool was initially launched by the U.S. Department of Justice with the National Forensic Science Technology Center. In 2011, the University North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC) was awarded a contract to manage the system. NamUs costs approximately US$1.8 million to operate per year.

Data about missing persons can be entered into the NamUs system by registered public users including relatives of a missing person, registered law enforcement officers, registered members of clearinghouses, and NamUs staff members. The profiles of unidentified persons are entered into the NamUs system by registered representatives of coroners and medical examiner’s offices, along by some registered forensic scientists, and NamUs staff members. Members of the general public can view selected information using NamUs databases without registering, however, access to sensitive information, such as data used by medico-legal investigators about a missing person is restricted; as is the ability to view private details about unidentified persons.

The NamUs system has become so popular that its use has been dramatized in Jerry Bruckheimer’s television vehicle, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Such levels of notoriety ensures that interest in the DNA biometrics modality and technology remains high.  As a result, Biometrics Research Group, Inc. expects the application of DNA analysis in criminal justice procedures will continue to increase.

Investments in newly unveiled “Rapid DNA” technologies only totaled US$50 million in 2012, but the Biometrics Research Group projects fast growth (US$250 million in rapid DNA spending by 2015) as the U.S. justice system works to reduce its backlog of unanalyzed DNA samples.

Overall spending for DNA analysis is still miniscule which taken in context with total police spending.  Previous research conducted by Biometrics Research Group, Inc. determined that the U.S. federal government spends US$14.8 billion on its law enforcement activities and that local U.S. police authorities spend US$100 billion.  Total police service operating expenditures in Canada totaled $12.9 billion in 2011, according to Statistics Canada.

Biometrics Research Group provides forward-looking and systematic data about the global biometric market, allowing industry stakeholders to calculate political, economic and investment risk.

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About Rawlson King

Rawlson O’Neil King is a contributing editor at BiometricUpdate.com and is an experienced communications professional, management consultant, trade journalist and author who recently published a book about control and electronic networks and who has written numerous articles in trade publications and academic journals about smart home and building technologies. Follow him @rawlsonking2.