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Officials learn how to collect DNA at crime scenes

Monday, September 11, 2006

By JASON JACOBS

bigjake9160@yahoo.com

Criminal justice officials from eight counties, including Clay County attended a felony DNA collection training session Thursday in Greencastle.

The training was conducted by Mark F. Renner, the director of contract operations for Strand Analytical Laboratories, and Indianapolis-based organization that provides forensic and parentage DNA testing services.

Renner explained the standard process for DNA testing is no longer through blood samples, but through oral buccal swabs, collecting saliva from the inside of the cheek. This process is much safer and simpler than using blood samples because there is no need to use a sterile needle to collect the sample.

Indiana first made DNA testing mandatory only for felons who were sex offenders in July 1996, and had been amended many times to include more felons in the testing until July 2005 when the state required mandatory DNA testing for all felons, no matter the crime.

This law is not uncommon as 43 states other than Indiana have similar laws and in Nov. 2004, California residents voted to make DNA testing mandatory for all arrests made.

After obtaining the sample, along with a thumbprint for secondary identification, collection officials send the samples to Strand for analysis in which they extract the cells from each swab (two from each cheek), use special enzymes to extract the DNA from the cell nucleus and replicate the DNA for the detection process.

The DNA is then run through the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which is a computer program with local, state and national databases of potential offender profiles.

The first search is run through past offenders due to the high amounts of repeat offenders. National statistics indicate that 30 percent of all released prisoners commit another crime within their first six months of their release; a number that jumps up to 67.5 percent within three years of release.

"Having been a prosecutor and on the bench, I was shocked to believe just how high these statistics really were," Renner said.

On a national level, the FBI provides free CODIS software, installation, training and user support to any area with a lab capable of performing DNA testing, as the main purpose is to help link known offenders to crime investigations in which there are no known suspects.

Locally, Strand will provide training and all needed supplies for DNA collection for free. They will also help set up the process in any area with county official whether it be the court, sheriffs, probation departments and so on.

"I work with each county to find the best approach to find possible offenders," Renner said. "I will come to your county and have you tell me what works best for you and plan from there."

The largest positive that comes from using this system is if the collected DNA brings up a match from a prior offense anywhere in the country, it provides instant probable cause to obtain a warrant for a second sample for evidence leading to a possible positive identification.

"We want to prevent crimes from being committed," Renner said. "The average criminal will commit five to eight crimes before the get caught. So if we can prevent any of those crimes from happening, it show that the system is successful."



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