The Carroll County sheriff agreed yesterday to begin collecting cheek-swab DNA samples from convicted felons at the county jail -- a move designed to help the Maryland State Police tackle a backlog of required samples that was the subject of a critical state audit.
Although the Carroll Detention Center housed 17 people convicted of crimes yesterday -- and the state police backlog is more than 9,000 -- officials said yesterday's agreement could be the start of an effort by local jurisdictions to help the state police catch up.
Carroll Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning will become president of the Maryland Sheriffs' Association next month, and he pledged to use his influence to get other sheriffs to help collect DNA from new convicts.
"It's a very efficient way to combine local and state resources to solve a large common problem," Tregoning said. "To me, it's a no-brainer."
He said that 10 of the state's sheriffs run their local jails, and that two of them have agreed to participate. Tregoning and George R. Hardinger, warden of the Carroll detention center, said they will urge officials in other counties and members of the Maryland Correctional Administrators Association to help.
John J. Tobin Jr., director of the state police forensic sciences division, called yesterday's agreement "the beginning of a collaborative effort."
Last month, a legislative audit that detailed problems within the state police was made public.
The audit found that the agency failed to collect DNA samples from thousands of felons, and that many that were collected were not analyzed or entered in the state's DNA database.
The use of DNA -- a genetic fingerprint -- has led not only to arrests and convictions in unsolved crimes, but also to the clearing of some people wrongly convicted, officials said yesterday.
"We've had 153 hits [matches to crimes] on the system already," said Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins, state police superintendent since December. "We can be pretty sure there are a lot more out there."
In 1994, Maryland began to require DNA samples from convicted sex offenders, said Maj. Greg Shipley, state police spokesman.
The law was expanded in 1999 to include all violent offenders, and again in 2001 to include all felons, plus those with misdemeanor rogue-and-vagabond and fourth-degree burglary convictions, Shipley said.
As of mid-July, there were 9,363 samples yet to be collected in the state prison system, Tobin said. The state police crime lab had been responsible for collecting the samples, but the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services recently agreed to begin collecting samples, Hutchins said.
In local detention centers statewide, the backlog is some 660 inmates, Tobin said.
Tregoning offered his help last week, Hutchins said.
"When he saw what was going on here, he just came down to Pikesville and said, 'I'm here to help you deal with this DNA issue,'" Hutchins said. The two men -- former barracks mates when Tregoning was a trooper -- signed the memorandum of understanding yesterday at the Westminster barracks.
The Carroll County Detention Center has 17 eligible prisoners who will be swabbed today, said Hardinger, the warden.
The procedure uses a lollypop-shaped swab with a foam surface to capture cells, one side for each cheek, said Teresa Long, assistant director of the state police lab, who has worked with the DNA database from its inception.