Bill would boost DNA crime-fighting

State and federal agencies would get more than $50 million to build DNA crime-solving databases in a bill introduced last week by Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.)

The bill, the Convicted Offender DNA Index System Support Act, aims to ease states' backlogs in processing DNA samples used in databases of criminals. It would also allow the FBI to create a DNA database of federal offenders, closing what Gilman has called a crime-fighting loophole. Additionally, the bill would let the FBI develop a DNA information system that might be used to identify missing persons.

Gilman's bill, H.R. 3375, comes a little more than a year after the FBI launched its National DNA Index System, which enables investigators in one state to match DNA found at a crime scene with DNA profiles of criminals on file in other states.

Gilman doesn't like that the FBI-run system only points to information managed by other law enforcement agencies, such as state police departments, and that it does not contain DNA information on federal criminals.

"Although all 50 states require DNA collection from designated convicted offenders, for some inexplicable reason, convicted federal, District of Columbia and military offenders are exempt," Gilman said last week when introducing the bill. "H.R. 3375 closes that loophole by requiring the collection of samples from any federal, military or D.C. offender convicted of a violent crime."

The bill earmarks $6.6 million for the FBI and $600,000 for the Defense Department to build the database.

FBI officials familiar with the agency's DNA system could not be reached for comment.

States would get $15 million over two years to tackle backlogs of DNA samples from convicted offenders and $24.5 million for the DNA backlog on unsolved casework. The bill also sets aside nearly $3 million for the FBI to build a DNA database for identifying missing persons.

"This program will permit family members who have lost a loved one to voluntarily enter their DNA profile into a national registry," Gilman said. "Should a missing child be found, this database will provide our law enforcement agencies with a system to locate the displaced families and bring the child home. Furthermore, it will allow individuals who, in later years, suspect they have been abducted to refer to the FBI in search of a match to their DNA."

John Rabun, vice president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said using DNA for identification purposes is "absolutely the way to go." He said DNA could provide a better way of identifying bodies because DNA outlasts fingerprints and surpasses dental records in accuracy.

He said parents could keep a sample of their children's DNA the way many parents now keep copies of their children's fingerprints. But he said he would not submit private DNA information for inclusion in a national registry unless a child disappeared. "I, for instance, would not want law enforcement keeping my child's DNA. It's up to me as the parent when I want to give the huge criminal justice system access to that private information," he said.

The bill stipulates that DNA information in systems be made available only for law enforcement identification purposes, in judicial proceedings, for defending criminal suspects from prosecution or for validation studies, provided "personally identifiable" information is removed.

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