But a portable machine about the size of a large desktop printer is changing that. A “Rapid DNA” machine can analyze the DNA in a swab and produce a profile of 20 specific loci on the DNA strand in less than two hours. Some local police departments and prosecutors have been using Rapid DNA machines for about five years to solve crimes.
In Orange County, Calif., recently, police investigating a stabbing found a trail of blood they believed was left by the assailant. The Rapid DNA machine was able to produce a profile that matched someone already in the Orange County database but who was “not on the radar” of investigators, Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Contini said. He was arrested. “The speed with which you can give law enforcement these clues is critical,” Contini said. “When you are out on these suspects fast, they confess. We’ve had tremendous success.”
And last month, one of the two manufacturers of Rapid DNA machines, ANDE of Waltham, Mass., shipped six of the machines to California for use in trying to identify victims of the massive wildfires there, using DNA from family members to create a temporary searchable database.
However, the machines are not connected to CODIS, the FBI’s combined national DNA database. So the FBI is launching a Rapid DNA initiative to place the machines in police and sheriffs’ booking stations around the country, hoping to enable law enforcement to check arrestees against the CODIS database and, when matches are made to DNA from unsolved crimes, head off the release of the suspects.
In testifying to Congress about the Rapid DNA network in 2015, then-FBI Director James B. Comey said the technology “would help us change the world in a very, very exciting way.” Comey said it would allow “booking stations around the country, if someone’s arrested, to know instantly — or near instantly — whether that person is the rapist who’s been on the loose in a particular community before they’re released on bail and get away or to clear somebody, to show that they’re not the person.”
Thirty states and the federal government allow DNA to be taken at the time of arrest. Sixteen states allow it to be analyzed immediately, and in the other 14 states, DNA may be taken at arrest but not analyzed until after arraignment on charges. The FBI expects a Rapid DNA network will not only enable more identifications of crime suspects, but also drastically reduce the time investigators spend waiting for DNA results and lessen the burden on crime labs.