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Jump In Number Of `Hits' Expected From `DNA On Arrest' Law - ESR

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, April 8 NZPA - The numbers of "hits" on New Zealand's national DNA database will start rising when samples from more convicted criminals are added to it from next July, experts say.

Increased numbers of samples from crime scenes are expected to be matched up with the DNA profiles of convicted criminals on the expanded database, MPs were told today at Parliament's select committee on science.

"The number of links will go up," said ESR's forensics general manager, Keith Bedford.

The Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Amendment Bill now before Parliament is set to expand the collection and use of DNA samples to help police solve crimes.

It will allow police to collect DNA from people they "intend to charge", and to match it against samples from unsolved crimes, said Dr Bedford.

At present, DNA can be collected only with consent, by judicial approval, or by compulsion where people are suspected or convicted of an offence punishable by more than seven years imprisonment, and Dr Bedford said the selection of people to be sampled was "rather ad hoc".

There are just under 100,000 DNA profiles in the DNA databank -- including more than 8000 unidentified profiles from crime scenes. Nearly 75 percent of the offender profiles on the system were volunteered.

The first stage of the new law will allow police to test the DNA profile of every person charged with serious offences, pre-cursor crimes for serious offending.

People charged with aggravated assault, peeping, committing an indecent act in a public place, unlawful possession of a firearm, cruelty to a child or male assaults female can also be tested.

Dr Bedford said this is likely to push the existing collection of 10,000 to 12,000 samples annually to between 25,000 and 27,000 and will require ESR to spend $2m on extra staff and other resources.

The second stage from 2011 will enable sampling of everyone charged with an imprisonable offence. Collection and processing of 100,000 samples a year was likely to require ESR to invest a further $10m.

ESR chief executive John Hay told the committee that if the sampling levels rise to 100,000 a year, authorities would have to "decide whether its useful to have shoplifting grandmothers on the database".

The 62 percent link rate from the existing system of voluntary samples collected by police is the highest in the world, even though only 2.3 percent of the NZ population is on the database.

Britain, which has a database of 5 percent of its population, is the next highest with a link rate of 52 percent.

Dr Hay said that New Zealand's hit rate was higher partly because it was a smaller country and "to be honest, the cops know the crims".

DNA can identify not only individuals, but families, and police knew enough about their suspects to pick the families from which they should seek samples, said Dr Hay.

ESR had spent about $1.5 million automating its DNA preparation and processing, and had made investments in new technology such as low copy number (LCN) analysis, which can match a sample of just 20 cells containing DNA compared with a minimum of 50 under the more commonly used technology.

Dr Bedford told NZPA the LCN process was relatively expensive and cases in which it was used were carefully selected - often because less sophisticated technology would not provide useful results. There was a pool of historical cases also being considered for use of the technology.

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