Rapid DNA testing quickly connects criminals to crimes

DNA testing

Police in Salt Lake City have a new tool to quickly catch criminals. It’s called Rapid DNA testing and has just solved its second case in Utah by connecting a suspect to a gun.

“I’m extremely excited about the gun cases. Given today’s environment with all the mass shootings and people that have guns that shouldn’t – we want to be able to hold those people accountable, in essence make our community safer”, explains Attorney General (AG) Office investigator Nate Mutter.

The ANDE rapid DNA device was used successfully to connect a gun to a suspect in a 2014 case. The gun had been found in a field in Sandy. But because it was a low priority, the state crime lab had yet to run a test on it. When Sandy Police heard about the AG Office’s rapid DNA machines, a test was run. The sample was matched with a felon who was in Utah, but is now in federal prison in North Carolina.

“So, if we do have a gun case like this, we can get that DNA sample back while the person is still in jail prior to them being released”, said Sergeant Jason Nielsen from Sandy Police.

The AG Office has seven trained investigators who can swab for DNA, operate the machinery and run tests. Blood and saliva matches are returned within 90 minutes.

DNA analysis

In the state’s first rapid DNA case, blood was found at the scene of a house burglary in Cache County in September. Property crime evidence can take months to get analyzed at the state crime lab. However, when Mutter and his team stepped in the analyzed DNA got a match.

“It was extremely nerve-racking”, says Mutter. “Even though it had been demonstrated to us. Even though we had gone through the training. It was extremely different when you are actually putting in your first case. The 2 hours felt like 2 days.”

Results from so-called ‘touch DNA’, such as on knives and guns, also come back quickly, but as they can be mixed samples they need to be analyzed by an expert. The gun case took 2 weeks. The hope is to speed up the touch DNA testing to just 1 day. This will allow police agencies to get answers while their suspects are still in custody.

The Utah Bureau of Forensic Services Lab serves 175 agencies and is the only full-service forensic lab in Utah. Because it is so busy, some cases get pushed back. AG investigators and police say rapid DNA testing could make all the difference in criminal cases. It can tell them, right away, who is and who isn’t involved.

“This is an absolute game-changer for law enforcement”, says Mutter.

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