Crime

FBI says backlog of DNA database is now cleared

MANATEE -- A backlog of more than 295,000 federal prisoners’ DNA in an FBI database has been eliminated, according to FBI officials.

“The FBI laboratory has been aggressively pursuing proactive measures to address the massive growth of federal offender samples following legislative changes in 2001, 2004 and 2005,” said FBI Special Agent Ann Todd from the public affairs office in Quantico, Va. “In September, the FBI laboratory successfully eliminated the federal offender backlog.

“Further, new offender samples, currently being accepted by the laboratory, are processed and uploaded into the National DNA Index System within 30 days.”

Law enforcement authorities in Manatee have acknowledged that the Aug. 3, 2009, slaying of Kathleen Briles in her Terra Ceia home might have been prevented without that backlog, as reported by the Bradenton Herald.

For months, the backlog hampered efforts to identify Delmer Smith III as a suspect in an earlier series of home invasion attacks in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Smith was charged with Briles’ slaying in February. one year after investigators in Sarasota County found DNA evidence at one of the earlier crime scenes. But it wasn’t until after Smith was arrested in the Briles cases that the material was matched with him because Smith, whose DNA was sampled while he was in prison for bank robbery, was part of the FBI backlog.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, who met with the FBI and Federal Bureau of Prisons concerning the backlog, now hopes to have a system in place to guarantee all federal offenders’ DNA is entered into the FBI database when they enter prison.

“I applaud the FBI for clearing their backlog,” he said. “But we still need the Bureau of Prisons to bring their DNA database up to date. I will continue to work with both federal agencies to ensure that DNA evidence is available in a timely manner to help prevent violent crimes in the future.”

Lawrence Kobilinsky, a DNA expert and a professor at John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York, applauded the FBI’s efforts to clear the backlog.

“That is astonishing they were able to catch up so quickly,” he said. “When you think about the number of personnel involved, the equipment and the laboratory space and all of the overhead involved to do that, that’s quite a task.”

The Bureau of Prisons and the FBI have developed a plan to eliminate the backlog entirely by the end of June 2011, Buchanan said. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Prisons has assured Buchanan they will continue to ensure that all inmates subject to testing have a DNA sample taken prior to their release from custody.

Kobilinsky said high prison numbers warrant the need for a set process to ensure all offenders have DNA collected. He said every time laws change on who to include in DNA collection, it can create a backlog of samples if proper resources aren’t in place.

“When you have a criminal who is not in the database, they are free to commit further crimes until they get caught,” he said. “That’s why it’s not a very popular thing to have a large backlog of cases.”

At the state level, Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s DNA database in November documented 379 matches, the highest number of hits in a single month since its inception in 1989.

The state DNA database contains more than 700,000 samples and receives an average of 7,000 new samples each month. The state database interfaces with the FBI’s CODIS, enabling comparisons of DNA profiles between state databases.

“Over the last two decades, we’ve documented more than 16,000 hits,” said Crime Lab Analyst Supervisor Chris Carney, who heads up Florida’s Database. “The database is an amazing combination of science and technology and it’s become one of the most effective tools available to law enforcement for solving crime.”

Florida law requires offenders convicted of a felony and certain misdemeanors to submit a DNA sample to the DNA database.

On average, it takes 18 days for a sample to be entered into the system, Carney said. In Manatee County, since the inception of the database, there have been a total of 111 hits, Carney said.

Smith is set to go to trial in the Briles case on July 7 in Manatee County. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.

He is slated to stand trial on numerous home invasion charges in Sarasota County on Feb. 7.

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