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DNA info goes into FBI database

Author(s): PENNY BROWN ROBERTS Date: July 12, 2006 Section: News

Louisianians arrested in cases of fighting with school referees, hiring a prostitute or stalking now will find their DNA in a national FBI database -alongside that of convicted rapists and murderers. State Police on Tuesday uploaded to the National DNA Index System, or NDIS, the first batch of genetic profiles from 45,000 people arrested for - but not convicted of-felonies and certain misdemeanors.

Hailed by law-enforcement authorities but denounced by civil-liberties advocates, the move will more than double the number of residents whose genetic information is electronically accessible for criminal investigations.

"Louisiana can expect to have a big impact on solving crimes," said Ann Todd, spokeswoman for the FBI Laboratory at Quantico, Va. "Obviously, the more information in the database, the more productive it will be in helping to solve crimes, and the types of crimes in the database are violent crimes typically."

The state began taking DNA samples from those convicted of felonies in 1999, but in 2003 expanded its collection to include arrestees.

Just six other states - Virginia, Texas, Minnesota, California, New Mexico and Kansas - have similar laws. Last year, Congress said it was OK to take DNA from those arrested in federal offenses.

The FBI limited its national DNA database to profiles of those convicted of a felony until January, when President Bush authorized the inclusion of arrestee information as well.

The database enables federal, state and local crime labs to exchange and compare DNA profiles electronically to solve crimes. As of May, the system has been used in more than 35,000 investigations nationwide.

Louisiana has 44,132 convicted offender profiles in NDIS; the immediate addition of nearly 45,000 arrestees will more than double that number. By comparison, Virginia uploaded just 4,600 arrestee profiles in June.

Tammy Pruet Northrup, DNA manager for the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab, said once genetic profiles are uploaded, the agency expects to provide the FBI with an average of 1,500 to 2,500 more each week.

"There's been a lot of success with this - particularly on cases that are cold," Northrup said. "Even if it doesn't necessarily solve the case, DNA can lead investigators to witnesses who didn't come forward that might result in important investigative leads."

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, reveals unique genetic traits about a person. Its collection and storage has proven controversial in Louisiana.

Nevertheless, law-enforcement authorities predict expansion of the national DNA database will prove to be a useful crime-fighting tool.

Baton Rouge Police Chief Jeff LeDuff said the potential benefit for law enforcement is "incredible."

"Cold-case investigations just got a huge shot in the arm," he said. "Imagine the relief it's going to be able to bring to victims of crimes. This is truly, truly a significant day in a strong technological movement for law enforcement."

Col. Greg Phares, chief criminal deputy for the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriffs Office, said having more samples in the database is "potentially advantageous for law enforcement."

"I realize many people have legitimate concerns about having their DNA in a database," he said, "but if the use of the database is confined to solving serious crimes, then 1 think it's a good thing."

But Thomas Damico, a Baton Rouge defense lawyer, said the potential for abuse is too high.

He questions whether DNA evidence will replace "a good old-fashioned shoe-leather investigation, and the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time without an alibi will be in trouble." Damico also wonders whether processing arrestee DNA will overload already-backlogged crime laboratories - possibly compromising the integrity of their work.

"I quite frankly don't think this is good for anybody," Damico said. "There's too much potential for abuse. The one thing people should realize by now is they can't trust their government."

Jim Boren, one of the Baton Rouge defense lawyers who filed the federal lawsuit over the swabs taken during the serial-killer investigation, said, "We're going to end up with an awful lot of innocent people's data in FBI databanks, which is inappropriate. People who are arrested are still presumed innocent."

National DNA Indexing System

Louisiana is sending to the FBI the DNA profiles of 45,000 people arrested - but not convicted - of felonies and the following misdemeanor crimes:

Battery of a police officer, schoolteacher or school or recreation athletic contest official

Simple battery

Simply battery of a child welfare worker or the infirm

Assault

Aggravated assault

Stalking

Misdemeanor carnal knowledge of a juvenile

Prostitution

Soliciting for prostitutes

Inciting prostitution

Prostitution by massage

Massage/sexual conduct prohibited

Letting premises for prostitution

Letting premises for obscenity

Peeping Tom

Source: Louisiana State Police

Copyright (c) 2006 Capital City Press, Baton Rouge, La.

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