Government Technology

Los Angeles County Uses DNA Tracking Database to Solve Cold Cases

January 22, 2010 By

John Floyd Thomas -- the so-called Westside Rapist in California's Claremont area -- was charged in April 2009 with murdering two women in the 1970s, later was linked to five more murders. Nearly 40 years after the women's deaths, Thomas will stand trial, thanks to DNA evidence obtained by the Los Angeles Police Department's Cold Case Homicide Unit.

Another L.A. case was solved in November when a DNA sample from the murder scene of Hazel Hughes matched Victor Alvarez, according to the Los Angeles Times. The 27-year-old mystery was solved and another cold case was laid to rest.

DNA evidence is heating up cold cases because of a 2004 initiative passed by California voters. Proposition 69 -- the DNA Fingerprint, Unsolved Crime and Innocence Protection Act -- authorized DNA collection from all felons, including those with previous felony convictions and individuals arrested for or charged with a felony offense, beginning in 2009.

According to, the new law is expected to add the genetic material of more than 1 million people to California's DNA and Forensic Identification Database and Data Bank within five years, making it the nation's largest state-run databank.

To provide its 47 law enforcement agencies with the tools to comply with the law, the L.A. County Information Systems Advisory Board (ISAB) created a Web-based DNA Offender Tracking System (DOTS) that identifies arrestees who must provide a DNA sample.

"In [2009], it was important to have DOTS in place because all felony arrests require that a DNA swab be taken at the time of arrest," said Richard Barrantes, Court Services Division chief for the L.A. County Sheriff's Office. "For us to facilitate that, we knew we had to have a system in place. Years ago, we started working on DOTS so that once we make an arrest, we can check, using technology, to see if a DNA sample has already been taken for that arrestee or if one is required based on the current charge."

Turning Up the Heat

In July 2006, the ISAB began developing DOTS -- which uses Global 360's case management solution, Case360, as its application platform -- to improve the DNA collection tracking progress. According to Ali Farahani, director of integration services for ISAB, approximately 1,200 arrests are made daily in L.A. County, so police officers must check each record to determine if a DNA sample must be collected.

"The No. 1 driver was to improve efficiency by creating a centralized system to track the collection of DNA," Farahani said. "And the second driver was to make sure law enforcement officers had accurate information as to whom they should collect DNA from."

The first phase rolled out in October 2007, providing all county law enforcement agencies with a Web-based system that supplies an offender's Record of Arrest and Prosecution (RAP) sheet, which usually includes arrest dates and charges, and the arresting agency.

DOTS automates the DNA collection process and lets officers know if an offender's DNA is already in the system.

"Prior to [2009], DNA was required on all arrests that had qualifying charges like murder and rape. Those kinds of things required DNA be automatically taken," he said. "So regardless of whether or not it was on file, we would take the DNA sample, and if their sample had already been taken, the new sample wouldn't be needed anymore."

After a DNA sample was collected, officers completed an accompanying paper card, which took 30 minutes and might have inconsistent or illegible information. The sample was then sent to the state, where it sometimes took a month to process and update the criminal history system.

The lack of a centralized system led to duplicated work by officers and multiple DNA samples from suspects. Although officers make the same number of arrests, they're finding they

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