How Rapid DNA Testing Is Changing the Future of Investigations

Fingerprints have been used in police investigations in the United States since the early 1900s. The first court case using fingerprint evidence was in 1911, and fingerprint evidentiary techniques have been used by police ever since. More than seventy years later, technology and science have taken this type of identification evidence to the next level.

In 1986, DNA fingerprinting for forensic science was used for the first time in the United Kingdom. In the following years, DNA evidence was introduced in cases in the United States. However, it would be the DNA Identification Act of 1994 that established a national index that could be searched for data such as:

  • DNA identification records of persons convicted of crimes
  • Analysis of DNA samples recovered from crime scenes and unidentified human remains

As science and technology continue to advance, the conventional DNA testing that’s been used for more than 20 years is being eclipsed by the RapidHIT ID DNA, a system that’s changing the future of investigations.

What is the RapidHIT ID DNA System?

The RapidHIT ID DNA system or simply Rapid DNA is described by AZoLifeSciences as an “automated process of quickly establishing a DNA profile without requiring skilled human staff to run an analysis.” It is currently used by law enforcement agencies “to globally run DNA samples taken via cheek swabs from suspects under arrest against other samples within the agency’s database.”

Fast facts about the RapidHIT ID DNA system:

  • Testing process takes about 90 minutes
  • Tests can be done by forensic laboratories, law enforcement agencies, and booking stations
  • A swab sample can be taken from a suspect quickly and easily
  • Samples are quickly compared to other samples in the system
  • 30 states and the federal government allow RapidHIT ID DNA testing in investigations

The Rapid DNA Act of 2017 helped expand the use of RapidHIT ID DNA technology. It makes it easier for law enforcement agencies to obtain match results faster by connecting departments to the FBI CODIS (Combined DNA Index System).

Ways RapidHIT Supports Investigations with Quick Data Collection

Tracey Johnson, a Forensic Scientist with the National Institute of Justice, states that there are two primary advantages to using rapid DNA testing instruments versus conventional methods. These advantages are:

  • A sample can be processed very quickly
  • The ease and availability for searching that particular DNA profile within the expansive database

Because the RapidHIT ID DNA test can run in as few as 90 minutes (or less), police can actually get accurate results while a suspect is being held in custody. It can help alert officers that a suspect’s DNA is linked to crimes beyond the one for which they’re currently in custody. This can help keep violent and repeat offenders off the streets.

With the new rapid DNA testing, there is less human handling of the sample, which may be saliva, blood, or tissue. The sample is inserted into a cartridge which then is placed within the Rapid DNA instrument. The machine performs a series of automated steps and generates a DNA profile from the sample. The profile is then compared to the extensive databases that contain DNA profiles from arrested or convicted individuals, unsolved crimes, human remains, and more.

With less human handling of the sample, there is a significantly reduced risk of contamination.

Potential Drawbacks of the RapidHIT ID DNA System

The RapidHIT ID DNA system isn’t designed to be used with small samples from a crime scene that may need to be preserved and/or tested and retested. If only a limited DNA sample is available, rapid testing might not be best. In addition, conventional testing may be better if a crime scene has multiple DNA sources that need to be analyzed and interpreted by a forensic specialist.

How RapidHIT Helped Solve a String of Armed Robberies

Via a case study, in 2019, the Falls Township Police Department in Bucks County, Pennsylvania swabbed a sweatshirt from the scene of an armed robbery, sending the sample to a private lab. The results were then uploaded into the local database. This robbery was part of a string of eleven that had begun on April 13, 2019.

On June 6, 2019, police officers from Bensalem caught a suspect during an armed robbery. These officers used the RapidHIT ID DNA system. Within 90 minutes, they received notice that the sample matched the one from the sweatshirt in Falls Township. This connected the Bensalem suspect with the other armed robberies via the rapid DNA.

The RapidHIT ID DNA system can be used for the quick identification of suspects, connecting criminals to their other crimes, and in some cases, it also can be used for the identification of victims. It’s saving time and money, while changing the future of investigations.

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