New DNA database extends the long arm of law enforcement

The FBI hopes its new national DNA database will help state and local law enforcement
agents solve crimes faster by letting them compare genetic material collected at crime
scenes from coast to coast.


“The National DNA Index System will be of great value to city, county, state and
federal law enforcement agencies if they work together to apprehend violent
criminals,” FBI director Louis Freeh said when the bureau launched the system last
week.


The National DNA Index System gives state and local police access to the FBI’s DNA
database and, more importantly, to DNA collected by labs in other jurisdictions, said Dr.
Donald M. Kerr, director of the FBI Laboratory.


NDIS is the final component of the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System. The FBI
designed CODIS and installed it in 94 laboratories in 41 states and at bureau
headquarters. NDIS is a repository for DNA profiles submitted by participating states,
Kerr said.


CODIS uses two indexes to generate investigative leads where biological evidence is
recovered. The Convicted Offender Index contains DNA profiles of those charged with felony
sex offenses and other violent crimes. The Forensic Index contains DNA profiles from crime
scene evidence, such as samples of hair, semen or blood, where victims or suspects have
not yet been identified.


The CODIS records are stored in a Microsoft SQL Server 6.5 database that resides on a
pair of 200-MHz dual Compaq ProLiant 6500 servers each with 1G of RAM and a 20G hard
drive, said Steve Niezgoda, CODIS program manager. The FBI’s servers are housed in a
secret location, Herkenham said.


The FBI runs CODIS under Microsoft Windows NT 4.0, and bureau users access it from PCs
running Windows 95.


The FBI developed the application, with help from Science Applications International
Corp. of San Diego, using Visual Basic and C++, Niezgoda said.


Forensic examiners using CODIS software can run searches against the database for
matching DNA profiles. A match with the Forensic Index can link crime scenes and help
investigators determine if crimes are related.


“Ten years ago, forensic examiners were passive individuals, waiting for
investigators to bring them leads,” said Dwight Adams, chief of the FBI’s
Scientific Analysis Section. CODIS reflects the more active role forensics experts now
play, he said.


NDIS gives states access to the DNA profiles submitted by other states. NDIS also lets
states exchange DNA profiles and perform interstate searches.


Investigators made about 200 matches using the NDIS system during a pilot in the first
half of this year, Adams said.


Linking state data to a single system became possible in June when states began
requiring convicted violent offenders to provide DNA samples. States have collected
approximately 600,000 samples and analyzed more than 250,000, according to FBI figures.


Congress appropriated $5.5 million between fiscal 1996 and fiscal 2000 for CODIS’
development, said Dawn Herkenham, chief of the FBI’s Forensic Science Systems Unit.

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