A reporting system set up to provide Maryland lawmakers with data on crime scene DNA testing by state and local law enforcement agencies has major flaws, a state auditor's review has found.
The report by the state Office of Legislative Audits said that a "lack of clear guidance" in the legislation, in implementing regulations and in the report forms provided to police, led to "inconsistencies" in the reporting that have rendered any conclusions drawn from the numbers "unreliable."
The numbers for 2009 found, for example, that police collected 11,359 samples of crime scene DNA (as distinct from personal DNA) from 4,836 crimes. More than 1,800 of those crimes were committed in Baltimore City.
The average "turnaround" time for test results varied from 28 days in Howard County to 240 days for the National Capital Park Police.
But the review revealed that police agencies differed in how they defined and counted crimes and samples for the reports. Some provided estimates rather than counts. They also had different ideas on when to start counting the days it took to get DNA test results back. Three local police departments didn't report at all on samples they sent to private labs — between 14 percent and 17 percent of their crime scene DNA evidence.
Legislative Auditor Bruce A. Myers, who signed the report, was charitable in his comments, noting that Maryland appears to be a pioneer in its efforts to gather such data.
"We looked across the country, and even in other countries to see if anybody was doing anything like this. And we couldn't see it anywhere," he said.
"Maryland officials could argue that they're ahead of the curve, because other places don't collect the information," he said. "But if you're going to collect and use it, it should be reliable … There's a cost to these things."
Lawmakers requested the annual reports as part of 2008 legislation expanding the collection of DNA samples from suspects in violent crimes. Police agencies began filling out the forms in 2009.
Looking forward, Myers said, the legislative and executive branches will need to "get all parties on board as far as what is important, and what's needed and what is not needed."
"If it's important to do that in the future," he said, "then yes, you would have to clarify definitions and be more specific on how to do things, and make sure these places have the tools to collect what's needed."