Lawmakers back bills to bolster DNA system

Lawmakers back bills to bolster DNA system

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

House lawmakers are examining three bills aimed at reducing backlogs in DNA laboratories and adding information about criminals to the national DNA database.

The Violent Offender DNA Identification Act of 1999 (HR 2810), the DNA Backlog Elimination Act (HR 3087) and the Convicted Offender DNA Index System Support Act (HR 3375) would fund DNA data collection and analysis.

In the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Congress mandated that the FBI create the Combined DNA Index System. CODIS taps two databases:

•'The Convicted Offender Index holds profiles of people convicted of sexual and other violent felonies.

Bills target DNA collection
Violent Offender DNA Identification Act of 1999. HR 2810 would mandate the inclusion of DNA samples of convicted felons not currently entered in the Combined DNA Index System and provide $30 million in grants directly to states. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel are considering the bill.

The DNA Backlog Elimination Act. HR 3087 would authorize the Justice Department to spend $30 million over the next two years on eliminating the DNA analysis backlog. The bill would require the FBI to develop a plan to assist state and local forensics labs in performing DNA analyses. The Crime Subcommittee is considering the bill.

The Convicted Offender DNA Index System Support Act. HR 3375 would require the FBI to create a plan to help states reduce DNA analysis backlogs and enter DNA records into CODIS. The bill would also require that the FBI make plans to reanalyze DNA using new methods. The bill would direct the Bureau of Prisons, the District of Columbia and the Defense Department to collect DNA samples from individuals convicted of crimes. The Crime Subcommittee is considering the bill.

•'The Forensic Index contains DNA profiles collected by states from evidence such as hair, semen and blood at crime scenes [GCN, Aug. 9, 1999, Page 1].

All 50 states now collect DNA samples, and 109 laboratories in 43 states and the District of Columbia funnel information into CODIS, which has assisted investigators in 1,100 investigations in 24 states.

'As valuable as this system is, it is not being utilized effectively. We have the technology to revolutionize law enforcement and forensic science. We have to use this capacity,' Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) said recently at a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime.

'The problems with the current system include backlog and jurisdiction,' he said.

An FBI official agreed with the assessment.

'We know from our annual CODIS survey that the majority of states' analysis efforts are unable to keep pace,' said Dwight Adams, deputy assistant director of the FBI's Forensics Analysis Branch.

Funding is a key factor in the backlog.

Funding falters

'In most states and municipalities, funding has simply not kept pace with the increasing demand for crime laboratory analyses,' said Michael G. Sheppo, president of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors.

'To continue this crime solving technology, significant funding is needed,' said Sheppo, who is also a bureau chief with the Illinois State Police.

Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.), chairman of the subcommittee, said CODIS houses about 400,000 DNA samples, and another 350,000 samples are waiting to be analyzed and entered.

A lab crime

'The crime laboratories capable of performing modern DNA analysis are woefully underfunded,' Rep. Anthony D. Weiner (D-N.Y.) said. DNA samples waiting on the shelf to be analyzed offer no assistance in criminal investigations, he noted.

Lawmakers said the national database is only as good as the information law enforcement officials enter.

'One of the underlying concepts behind CODIS is to create a database of the state's convicted offender profiles and use it to solve crimes for which there are no suspects,' Adams said.

The three bills would help states reduce the backlogs by providing funding for program development and assistance.

The Justice Department has requested $30 million for a two-year period to clear state backlogs, said David G. Boyd, director of the Office of Science and Technology at the National Institute of Justice. Congress appropriated $15 million for this fiscal year, and Justice has requested the same amount for fiscal 2001.

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