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1,600 city parolees are ordered to give genetic samples to state

The Baltimore Sun

Authorities have ordered nearly 1,600 Baltimore residents who are on parole or probation to have genetic samples collected as part of what state police say is a plan to reduce the state's DNA database backlog.

Similar notices will be sent out in the coming weeks and months. More than 6,000 city residents under the supervision of the Division of Parole and Probation never had DNA collected, said spokeswoman Elizabeth Bartholomew. Statewide, the number is more than 14,000.

Bartholomew said some of those offenders might have been released years ago.

The parole and probation division sent the initial orders for Baltimore residents by mail June 6, directing them to report to the 5th Regiment Armory on June 30.

State police spokesman Gregory M. Shipley said he was confident that all 1,591 samples could be taken efficiently in the same day.

Lab workers, crime scene technicians and police officers will set up an assembly line and take samples by quickly swabbing the inside of the donors' mouths, Shipley said. "It takes a second, and then it's over," he said.

In the past two weeks, the parole and probation division has collected samples from sex offenders in Ellicott City, Westminster, Hyattsville and Temple Hills, Bartholomew said, adding that sex offenders make up "a tiny" percentage of the DNA backlog.

The first batch of Baltimore call-ups were for those convicted of the most serious crimes and for cases that will expire in six months or less. State officials are trying to act quickly because the state cannot compel people to give up samples once their supervision ends.

"If you're not on probation, there's no penalty," Bartholomew said. "We want to get them before they go off."

Nine more collection dates have been planned throughout the state by the end of July, Bartholomew said, and more will come after that, including another in Baltimore.

DNA samples are collected to link offenders to crimes they might commit after release, Shipley said.

Maryland's state DNA database was created by a statute in 1994 and requires that the state police collect DNA samples from sex criminals, Shipley said. Over the years, that law was expanded to include all felons and people convicted of some misdemeanors.

But a personnel shortage led to a backlog of cases. At one point, up to 20,000 inmates had not given the required sample, the spokesman said.

With the help of the Division of Correction, sheriffs and Circuit Court officials, the number of untested inmates at detention centers around the state was reduced to fewer than 350 this year, Shipley said.

"Now we are focusing on parole and probation to close their backlog out," he said.

The police were also aided by $500,000 from Gov. Martin O'Malley, who as Baltimore's mayor was one of the officials to request in 2002 that the DNA database include all felons.

O'Malley put the money in the budget for fiscal year 2008, which will go into effect July 1. He also funded the hiring of two more scientists for the state police forensic lab and $900,000 in equipment, some of which will be used to analyze DNA, Shipley said.

The governor decided to set aside the funds after he heard estimates that the police forensic lab had analyzed fewer than 20 percent of submitted DNA samples, said spokesman Sasha Leonhardt.

"The governor decided a long time ago, before he was governor, that this was a problem and this was something he was going to choose to do if elected," Leonhardt said.

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