State, city police laud increase in arrests using DNA

Baltimore Sun

More arrests are being made using DNA, thanks to expanded collection and processing in Maryland, state and city police said Thursday morning.

At a joint news conference, State Police Superintendent Col. Terrence B. Sheridan and Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III announced that the state's DNA database had assisted in the arrests of 101 people for serious crimes committed in Baltimore over the past three years, including 68 for rapes or sex offenses and 13 for murder.

The most recent was Antonio Tates, a 25-year-old Annapolis man who Bealefeld said was arrested for a 2003 rape. Electronic court records show Tates was indicted by a Baltimore grand jury on Jan. 15.

"By eliminating the offender sample backlog and passing legislation requiring persons arrested for violent crimes to submit samples, Maryland's DNA database is operating more efficiently than ever before and is helping dedicated law enforcement personnel in Baltimore and across our state to unlock the secrets of crime scene evidence and bring those responsible for violent crime in Maryland to justice," Sheridan said.

Officials said Gov. Martin O'Malley has made DNA collection a priority for his administration. In 2008, state police cleared a backlog of more than 24,000 untested and uncollected DNA samples from convicted felons, the result of additional funding and staffing.

In 2009, O'Malley signed into law a bill that required those arrested and charged with violent crimes and burglaries to submit a DNA sample. There are more than 87,000 samples in the statewide database, including 4,213 samples from people who have been arrested as well as from samples collected from crime scenes. The crush of new samples initially overwhelmed the lab, Sheridan acknowledged.

As they collect more samples, Sheridan said that the rate of positive hits - matches to other samples in the database - is increasing. The DNA database was established in 1994, and the first positive comparison took four years. It took another eight years - until 2006 - for state police scientists to reach their 500th hit.

In comparison, 500 hits were made over a 15-month span from 2008 to 2009, officials said.

But there's a large disparity in the number of positive hits and those charged as a result of DNA. Police still must follow up with investigations, and in many cases, evidence is merely matched to evidence from another crime scene, with the identity of the suspect unknown, said Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman.

Bealefeld stressed the importance of forensic evidence in an apparent allusion to a 2008 robbery in which a woman was robbed at knifepoint in North Baltimore's Guilford neighborhood. Though she was prepared to identify her attacker in court, prosecutors said her identification was not enough and offered a plea deal. That man has since been arrested for a robbery and abduction in the same neighborhood.

"As you've seen in some recent cases, the bar is pretty high," Bealefeld said. "There is a desire for more forensic evidence linked to crime scenes. ... DNA helps us to do that."

City police recently received a $375,000 grant from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention to hire additional staff to help process more DNA evidence. The money, which came from a $1.2 million federal grant, was also distributed to police in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

"Criminals who thought they had long ago escaped are about to be brought to justice," Sheridan said.

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