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Program Profile

DNA Field Experiment

Evidence Rating: Effective - One study Effective - One study

Program Description

Program Goals

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) stores the genetic code of the human body and is present in items such as blood, saliva, and hair. It is used to identify an individual’s genetic characteristics, and can be vital to the identification, arrest, and prosecution of a suspect in a crime. While DNA evidence has traditionally been used to investigate more serious violent crimes, it can also be useful in solving property crimes. The goal of the DNA Field Experiment was to examine the use of DNA evidence in the investigation of residential burglary, commercial burglary, and theft from automobiles, and its impact on the number of suspects identified, arrested, and convicted in these types of crimes compared to cases processed without DNA evidence.

 

DNA processing can be a lengthy and costly process, so another goal of the program was to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of DNA evidence in solving property crimes and to determine if the use of DNA evidence produced outcomes that were worth the costs of DNA processing. (Limits on resources are often an issue for using DNA evidence, so government funding was provided to several sites to conduct the evaluations.)

 

Program Components

Biological evidence must be carefully collected, stored, and submitted to the crime lab to ensure a sample that can be analyzed for use in an investigation. Evidence must be handled properly to avoid decomposition or contamination; improper handling of a biological specimen can ruin its potential for analysis. DNA evidence can be collected from victims, suspects, their belongings, and from crime scenes. In burglaries, the perpetrator may leave behind a variety of biological material, including blood, saliva, and skin cells.

 

To create DNA profiles, biological material is entered into a computerized database, which can then be searched against samples from a specific suspect. DNA profiles from crimes can also be searched against DNA from convicted offenders. In addition, DNA profiles from different crimes can be compared against each other to assist in the investigation of linked cases.

 

Suspects are identified through the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database, a computer system that stores DNA profiles created by Federal, State, and local crime laboratories in the United States. CODIS has three hierarchal components: National DNA Index System (NDIS), State DNA Index System (SDIS), and Local DNA Index System (LDIS). NDIS is run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, while SDIS and LDIS are run by States. These databases hold a vast array of forensic information, including information on unidentified human remains, offender profiles, and various forensic information from crime scenes, with indices organizing all information. After evidence is collected and entered in the database and a hit is found, a suspect can be identified. The State crime lab then sends the information to the local crime lab, which then forwards that information to the police department.

 

Specific evidence-collection techniques were used to collect biological evidence from a burglary crime scene, including retracing the burglar’s steps and uncovering their motives, points of entry, and items touched. Evidence had to be collected carefully and quickly in order to get a good sample.

 

Once the evidence is collected, there is a lengthy and complicated process to analyze the sample. Stages in DNA processing include:

 

Preliminary testing. This component includes the initial examination of the sample, preparation of the test sample, and screening for the presence of human blood.

 

Generation of a DNA profile. DNA is extracted from the sample and genetic material is made into a profile.

 

CODIS entry. In this step, the DNA profile is recorded into the computerized system.

 

Case verification. The sample is confirmed using different databases (e.g., a local sample may be matched to a State database).

 

Investigation. The police department uses the evidence to locate, arrest, interview, and book a suspect.

 

Post-arrest procedures. Additional forensic lab resources are used to process a confirmation sample from the suspect after arrest.

 

Key Personnel

The successful processing of DNA evidence from crime scenes requires a high level of collaboration between the police department, the crime laboratory, and the prosecutor’s office. Each agency has its own responsibilities, and relies on cooperation from the other agencies to make sure that the processing is done efficiently:

 

Police department. First, members of the police department—including officers, crime scene investigators, and detectives—are responsible for processing crime scenes and collecting evidence properly. They must then transport the evidence to the laboratory and maintain police records and databases.

 

Laboratory personnel. Members of the laboratory, including analysts and forensic technicians, are responsible for processing and analyzing the biological evidence in an efficient manner. They keep the police department updated on results of tests in order to assist the investigation; good communication must therefore be maintained between the two agencies.

 

Prosecutor’s office. Finally, the police department and crime laboratory must collaborate with the prosecutor’s office in order to provide evidence for the prosecution of a suspect. They are responsible for providing detailed reports and analyses in a timely manner, in order to assist with the case against the suspect. The prosecutor then has the burden of using this evidence to assist in arguments proving the suspect’s guilt.

 

The process from data collection to prosecution can be time sensitive and complex, and actors are required to collaborate in ways that are more complex than in routine criminal investigations. Therefore, good communication and cooperation among all actors involved are vital to the successful use of DNA evidence.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1

Roman and colleagues (2008) found that property crime cases where deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) evidence was used resulted in more than twice as many suspects identified, twice as many suspects arrested, and more than twice as many cases accepted for prosecution, compared with traditional investigation. Denver had the best implementation practices and the most effective outcomes compared to the other sites.

 

Identification of Suspects

Across all sites. Suspects were identified for 31 percent of cases which used DNA evidence in the treatment group, compared to 12 percent of suspects identified in the control group. This difference was found to be statistically significant.

 

Denver, Colo. DNA evidence helped identify suspects for 56 percent of cases, compared to 18 percent of suspects identified without DNA evidence in the control group. This differences was found to be statistically significant.

 

Los Angeles, Calif. DNA evidence helped identify suspects for 41 percent of cases, compared to 22 percent of suspects identified in the control group, a statistically significant difference.

 

Orange County, Calif. For treatment group cases, which used DNA evidence, suspects were identified for 19 percent of cases. In the control group, 11 percent of suspects were identified. This difference was found to be statistically significant.

 

Phoenix, Ariz. In 16 percent of cases in the treatment group, suspects were identified, compared to suspects being identified in only 4 percent of cases in the control group. This difference was found to be statistically significant.

 

Topeka, Kan. DNA evidence helped identify suspects for 24 percent of cases, compared to 8 percent of suspects identified in the control group. This difference was found to be statistically significant.

 

Arrest of Suspects

Across all sites. In the treatment group, which used DNA evidence, suspects were arrested in 16 percent of cases. In the control group, 8 percent of suspects were arrested. These differences were found to be statistically significant. The total number of arrests was 173 in the treatment group and 86 in the control group

 

Denver. Suspects were arrested for 29 percent of treatment group cases, compared to 14 percent of suspects arrested in the control group (74 arrests in treatment group; 36 arrests in control group). This difference was found to be statistically significant.

 

Los Angeles. Suspects were arrested for 29 percent of cases, which used DNA evidence, in the treatment group, compared to 14 percent of suspects arrested in the control group (56 arrests in treatment; 28 arrests in control), a statistically significant difference.

 

Orange County. For treatment group cases, which used DNA evidence, suspects were arrested for 10 percent of cases, compared to 8 percent in the control group (25 arrests in treatment; 20 arrests in control). This difference was not found to be statistically significant.

 

Phoenix. Suspects were arrested for 3 percent of cases using DNA evidence in the treatment group, compared to 0 percent in the control group (8 arrests in treatment; 0 arrests in control). This difference was found to be statistically significant.

 

Topeka. Suspects were arrested for 6 percent of treatment group cases, compared to 2 percent in the control group (8 arrests in treatment; 3 arrests in control), but this difference was not found to be statistically significant.

 

Cases Accepted for Prosecution

Across all sites. For those cases in the treatment group, which used DNA evidence, 19 percent of cases were prosecuted. This compared to 8 percent cases accepted for prosecution in the control group, a statistically significant difference.


Denver
. Forty-six percent of cases which used DNA evidence were accepted for prosecution in the treatment group, compared to 17 percent of cases accepted for prosecution in the control group. This difference was found to be statistically significant.

 

Los Angeles. Twenty-two percent of cases which used DNA evidence were accepted for prosecution in the treatment group, compared to 10 percent of cases accepted for prosecution in the control group. This difference was found to be statistically significant.

 

Orange County. Nine percent of cases which used DNA evidence were accepted for prosecution in the treatment group, the same percent as those accepted for prosecution in the control group.

 

Phoenix. Of the treatment group cases, 7 percent were accepted for prosecution in the treatment group, compared to 0 percent of cases in the control group, a statistically significant difference.

 

Topeka. Seven percent of cases which used DNA evidence were accepted for prosecution in the treatment group, compared to 2 percent of cases accepted for prosecution in the control group. This difference was not found to be statistically significant.

 

Secondary Outcomes

The researchers also looked at several other outcomes in their analysis, including criminal history of offenders, types of evidence collected, and what type of person collected the evidence. They found that:


·         DNA is at least five times more likely to result in a suspect identification compared with fingerprints.

·         Suspects identified by DNA had at least twice as many prior felony arrests and convictions as those identified by traditional investigation.

·         Blood evidence results in better case outcomes than other biological evidence, particularly evidence from items that were handled or touched.

·         Biological material collected by forensic technicians is no more likely to result in a suspect being identified than biological material collected by patrol officers.

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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1

Roman and colleagues (2008) conducted a randomized experiment to evaluate the effectiveness of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) evidence on cases at five sites: Denver, Colo.; Orange County, Calif.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Los Angeles, Calif.; and Topeka, Kan. The study attempted to collect biological evidence from scenes of approximately 500 property crimes from each site, with 250 randomly assigned to a treatment group and 250 to a control group. Due to implementation issues, each site did not end up with exactly 250 treatment and 250 control cases. Each site differed slightly in protocol for evidence collection and analysis, but followed the same basic procedure.

 

The precise periods in which evidence was collected varied across the five sites, but all evidence was gathered between November 2005 and July 2007. The number of cases involved at each site was:

  • Denver: 255 treatment cases and 255 control cases
  • Los Angeles: 193 treatment, 198 control
  • Orange County: 249 treatment, 248 control
  • Phoenix: 251 treatment, 257 control
  • Topeka: 131 treatment, 129 control

The DNA evidence for cases in the treatment groups received immediate and efficient DNA processing, combined with traditional law enforcement processing. The comparison group was designed to have case outcomes that resulted solely from traditional investigation. Therefore, the DNA evidence for cases in the control groups was not processed for at least 60 days, and these cases were processed using traditional procedures. This was based on the assumption that an outcome in the case would be reached before the end of the 60 days and the DNA was processed. Thus, any difference in outcomes between groups could be attributed to the DNA evidence.

 

Three evaluation outcomes were used as measures of effectiveness: 1) Whether a suspect was able to be identified for the case, 2) whether an arrest was made in the case, and 3) whether the case was referred to prosecution. Data was obtained from each police department and maintained in a Microsoft Access database. Analysts then measured the percentage of cases that met all these outcomes for both the treatment and control group, and results were then compared against each other.

 

The overall outcomes were examined, and were also broken down by site due to differing procedures. The total sample size with all sites combined was 1,079 for the treatment group, and 1,081 for the control group.

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Cost

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The deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) collection process can incur many costs, including labor costs, use of technology, training, lab analysis, and other various expenses. Roman and colleagues (2008) conducted a cost-effectiveness analysis for the use of DNA evidence in addition to their effectiveness evaluation to compare relative costs to relative outcomes. They found that across all sites combined, using DNA evidence to process a single case added approximately $1,400 in costs. They also found that, for suspects who would not have been identified and arrested through traditional investigations, the use of DNA testing cost $4,502 for each additional suspect identified and cost $14,169 for each additional arrest. The researchers noted that these costs were not the expected cost per suspect identified, arrested and prosecuted but rather represented the added expense of identifying, arresting and prosecuting burglars who otherwise would not have been caught. Costs varied by site depending on different procedures.
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Implementation Information

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Due to the sensitive nature of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) evidence, crime scene personnel had to undergo extensive training to ensure biological materials were preserved and handled properly. They were trained on how to properly identify, collect, and process biological evidence at property crime scenes to avoid contaminating the evidence. They also were trained on what types of evidence they were allowed to collect and when they needed to call a crime scene investigator to collect certain types of evidence.

 

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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Roman, J., Shannon Reid, Jay Reid, Aaron Chalfin, William Adams, Carly Knight. 2008. “The DNA Field Experiment: Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of the Use of DNA in the Investigation of High-Volume Crimes.” Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center.
http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/222318.pdf
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

National Institute of Justice. 2011. “DNA.gov: Solving Property Crimes.” Accessed May 24, 2011.
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Program Snapshot

Geography: Urban

Setting (Delivery): Other Community Setting

Current Program Status: Not Active

Researcher:
John Roman
Senior Fellow
The Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center
2100 M Street, NW
Washington DC 20037
Phone: 202.261.5774
Website
Email