Sheriff Wants DNA Used For Burglaries, Not Just Violent Crimes

Property crime remains a big problem in Harris County and Sheriff Adrian Garcia wants to use DNA to catch repeat burglars. The department has given a DNA swab kit to each of its 630 patrol deputies. After a break-in, a deputy can collect DNA from a drop of blood left behind by a burglar, or from a drip of sweat, or even saliva left on a cigarette butt. Previously, only 19 crime scene investigators were trained to collect DNA in the field.

Sheriff Adrian GarciaSheriff Adrian Garcia:

"That allows us to cover much greater ground on the cases that are a little more mundane than the more violent and extreme cases."

Lab technicians extra the unique DNA signature from the sample, and submit it to a national FBI database. A match can happen in two ways: the DNA is linked to a known criminal or suspect, so that an arrest warrant can be issued. Or, the sample might match DNA collected at other crime scenes. Again, Garcia:

"This is the beauty of the technology is that we are linking crime scenes. So that when we eventually do find the suspect, we won't just have a car break in, but rather we'll have a mirage (range) of cases that the District Attorney's office can leverage in their prosecutions."

Since the beginning of this year, the Sheriff's Office matched DNA from 97 property crimes to the FBI database. A few arrests have been made, but the Sheriff did not have exact numbers.

Major Ronnie Silvio of the Patrol Services Bureau. He's demonstrating the DNA kit that has been distributed to the patrol deputies. The DNA kit carried by patrol deputies costs only 58 cents. But the real cost of expanding DNA testing comes in the lab — the testing takes weeks and requires trained personnel. Garcia couldn't say if Harris County might have to hire more lab technicians to investigate property crimes, or how much that might cost.

In Houston, a rise in burglary rates has led Police Chief Charles McClelland to consider using DNA evidence for those cases as well. But HPD says the chief is still thinking about it.

For more information, visit the FBI DNA database and the Harris County Sheriff's Department website.


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