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Failure to collect DNA hurts key crime-fighting tool

Jul. 27, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

A "fluke" discovery may have uncovered that Kentucky failed to collect the required DNA samples from thousands of felons over a four-year period, but why it happened was an obvious breakdown in procedures.

Determining just how that occurred and implementing safeguards to ensure it's not repeated are paramount to making the use of DNA sampling as complete a crime-fighting tool as it should be.

Kentucky did not collect DNA samples from as many as 7,000 felons, as required to do so under a law passed in 2009. That number represents nearly a tenth of DNA samples collected from state felons since that time.

Once analyzed, the DNA samples are supposed to go into the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. Police agencies across the nation can access CODIS and try to match DNA samples from a crime scene to samples from known felons in the system.

Kentucky's failure to collect several thousand samples was determined after a staff member at a state prison noticed several people had come in without DNA samples being taken, officials said. A review of reports and data then made it clear how extensive the problem was.

Now, the state is trying to backtrack to find 4,000 felons who are no longer in state custody to collect the DNA samples.

Gov. Steve Beshear has promised a complete investigation into the matter. The findings should be made public, complete with proposals to ensure such a widespread mistake doesn't occur again. The DNA database is an important tool; in Kentucky alone, DNA samples have aided in more than 1,000 investigations, officials say.

But potential opportunities to solve even more cases will be hindered if that DNA database is not complete.

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