High recidivism rates among burglars, along with significant improvements in forensic DNA technology, have generated a lot of interest in using DNA to solve property crimes. While DNA analysis is typically utilized in felony cases, such as homicide and sexual assault, a study funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has found that found testing biological evidence from burglaries does effectively solve property crimes. The study, conducted in Los Angeles, Santa Ana, Denver, Phoenix and Topeka, revealed that when forensic DNA analysis was added to traditional property crime investigations, twice as many suspects were identified and arrested, and twice as many cases were accepted for prosecution. With such successful results, one might expect that all biological evidence found at burglary crime scenes would be analyzed for DNA. However, there are many issues to consider when determining if such a change is practical or if society’s laws and procedures are prepared to adapt to such change.
According to Nancy Ritter, editor of the NIJ Journal, the unprecedented experiment, conducted by the Urban Institute, yielded other interesting findings. It found that:
Suspects were five times as likely to be identified through DNA than through fingerprints.
Blood was the most effective of all biological evidence in solving the crimes, especially if found on items handled by the suspect.
Evidence collected by patrol officers was just as likely to identify suspects as evidence collected by forensic technicians.
The suspects identified by DNA had at least twice as many prior felony arrests and convictions as those identified through traditional burglary investigations.
These remarkable results might suggest that law enforcement should quickly adapt the forensic DNA technology and test all DNA from all property crime scenes. However, the volume of property crimes is so high – over 2 million reported to law enforcement in 2006 – that testing even a portion of these property crimes may indeed overwhelm our criminal justice system. Consider that using DNA to solve a property crime will cost, on average, an additional $4,502 per suspect identified, $14,169 per arrest and $6,169 per case accepted for prosecution. The costs can vary for many reasons, including variables such as wages of scientists/law enforcement personnel, whether the analysis was done in-house or outsourced, the quality of the samples being tested and whether or not a profile – and a subsequent CODIS match – was obtained.
In addition to cost considerations, policy makers will need to think of other concerns raised by testing DNA evidence from property crimes. The large backlog of evidence that currently exists is likely the biggest issue as adding property crime evidence would generate an even greater backlog. Policy makers are asking difficult questions, such as, “Are jurisdictions able to make additional investments in equipment and technology to increase laboratory capacity?” “Should they outsource to private DNA laboratories?” “Will theses cases divert attention and resources away from other cases?” “What about the laws and sentencing guidelines and their affect on costs for prison and probation?”
Collaboration amongst police, crime laboratories and prosecutors is crucial to implement a successful system that efficiently uses DNA in property crime investigations.
Expanding forensic DNA testing to routinely include property crime evidence offers great hope in ensuring justice, but there are many considerations before it can become feasible in most jurisdictions. The added costs, availability of lab resources and the impact on laws and sentencing guidelines must be worked out. For further information about this study, visit www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/journals/261/dna-solves-property-crimes.htm