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December 22, 2013

Should Oklahoma collect DNA of arrestees?

(Continued)

NORMAN —

In the last three years, the OSBI was awarded federal grants totaling about $1.9 million. The most recent grant of $611,521 pays for three technicians’ salaries as well as supplies.

Without the federal funding, “the OSBI would have to drastically reduce the number of DNA cases and database samples being processed,” the bureau’s 2013 grant application states.

The bureau’s biology and DNA database operations have recently suffered a net $200,000 budget cut, said Porter, of the OSBI.

The federal grants aim to reduce backlogged cases. At the end of last year, the OSBI had a backlog of 22 convicted-offender samples more than 30 days old. Its backlog of forensic biology and crime-scene DNA totaled 450 cases, a 70 percent increase over the previous year.

Convicted offenders pay for some of the costs. People submitting samples under state law are required to pay $15 to cover collection costs, unless the sample is taken at the Department of Corrections’ intake facility.

In the end, a key question is whether expanding DNA collection to arrestees will improve public safety to an extent worth the cost in dollars and risks to privacy.

In a 2009 study on gathering arrestees’ DNA, the Denver District Attorney’s Office reported it identified five men who had been arrested without having DNA collected, then later committed violent crimes that weren’t initially solved. With crime-scene evidence from those crimes, the cases “could have been solved immediately through a DNA match” to a DNA profile collected at the earlier arrest, the report said.

The Urban Institute report, however, found that to date no systematic study has been conducted confirming the public-safety benefits of collecting arrestees’ DNA.

“The question is, what’s the tradeoff? Where’s the money not going?” said Julie Samuels, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute who helped author the study. “Are there better places in law enforcement to spend it?”

Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to oklahomawatch.org.

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