California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced a new DNA search policy that he says will improve the ability of local law enforcement to investigate unsolved violent crimes by providing new investigative leads.
"California will help local law enforcement catch violent criminals by providing, under special circumstances, the identity of a person in the DNA database who is the close relative of a suspect," Attorney General Brown told the California District Attorneys Association at their annual DNA/Cold Case Summit. "This new technique will assist local law enforcement with unsolved crimes committed by killers and sex offenders."
Currently, the state laboratory alerts local law enforcement when a crime scene sample exactly matches -- at all 26 genetic markers -- the DNA of an offender in the state offender database. Fifteen or more shared markers indicate that the person in the database could be a close relative of the source of the crime scene evidence. Under California's new search technique, the state laboratory will release this relative's identity to local law enforcement if the agency adheres to a strict protocol to ensure that personal privacy is carefully protected.
California's DNA offender database currently contains more than 1 million profiles from persons convicted of any felony and those arrested or charged with a homicide or sex offense. To date, the laboratory has released more than 5,000 exact matches, cold hits which provide key evidence to help solve crimes.
California's new search technique imposes multiple conditions, as specified in the attached policy bulletin, which must be met before the California Department of Justice will release the identity of a suspect's relative. This process was developed to strike an effective balance between privacy concerns and the need to provide information that may solve a violent crime.
If there is a serious public safety risk, for example a violent sex offender is at large, state scientists may also search the database in an effort to identify possible relatives of the suspect. If such a search returns multiple results, scientists will use a kinship analysis to determine whether any of the matches are likely to be a relative. The local agency must then conduct an additional genetic test to confirm the relatedness.
At more than 1 million DNA profiles, the California Attorney General's Office has the third largest DNA database in the world, just behind the United States as a whole and the United Kingdom. Each month, the laboratory releases more than 200 cold hits, matches between crime scene samples and persons in the state database.
In September 2007, Brown announced that the backlog of DNA samples collected from convicted felons and certain arrestees -- which stood at 295,000 in July 2006 -- had been completely eliminated.