By Joe Vazquez | CBS SF Bay Area
PLEASANTON (CBS SF) — It’s not quite as fast as the CSI detectives on television who solve crimes between the commercial breaks, but new technology just acquired by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department promises it will process a suspect’s DNA in record time.
“In less than two hours you get a complete DNA profile; identical to the profiles that are generated in typical forensic labs,” said Bob Schueren, CEO of IntegenX, based in Pleasanton.
The RapidHIT, made by IntegenX, looks like a copy machine. Swabs taken from a suspect are loaded into the RapidHIT and within two hours, information from the swabs can immediately be compared to profiles of previous offenders and also evidence from crime scenes with unknown suspects.
The current system for most California law enforcement agencies involves shipping evidence to a state lab; a process which can take weeks or months. In that time, a suspect may have been released from custody. Or an innocent person could have been jailed.
“Having somebody identified as a known previous offender while they’re still in custody should save a lot of time on investigation, follow up and possibly prevent other crimes,” Schueren said.
“We have to move faster,” said Alameda County District Attorney, Nancy O’Malley, who has been working with police agencies across the country to try and relieve a huge backlog of sexual assault cases.
In many cases, women have been given DNA tests called rape kits which have never been tested because the labs are so overworked.
“It’s estimated that there are somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 kits sitting in police evidence rooms that have never been analyzed; many of which have very invaluable perpetrator information and evidence in them,” O’Malley said.
Rape kits are more sophisticated, so those tests will still have to be conducted at a crime lab. But the D.A. says police investigators will now be able to use RapidHit to do other kinds of tests more quickly, which could free up the state lab to focus on the rape cases.
“We can’t spend the next 20 years testing kits of sexual assault crimes that happened 10 years ago. We need to do it now and we need to do it efficiently; we need to utilize all the technology that’s available to us so that we can bring justice to victims who have been sexually assaulted and to those whose cases have never been solved. We can get people out of jail or prison who have been wrongly convicted and we can continue to keep our community safe,” O’Malley said.
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department just received its first RapidHit late last week; the first in the Bay Area. After some more training and testing, they expect to put it to use some time within the next two months.
There are 100 RapidHits in use worldwide, two-thirds of which are overseas, said Schueren.