Handcuffs & Coffee brings the issues of local law enforcement back to the coffee table: Our community, our issues, our responsibility.
If you follow crime shows you are aware that unsolved crimes, or cold cases, exist. A new tool that can help law enforcement solve crimes may be under your Christmas tree this holiday. During the holidays people are often gifted a genetic test kit to discover their ancestral genealogical relationships or estimate the ethnic mixture of an individual. When you receive a kit like this you may be asked if you would like to allow your DNA profile to be used for a variety of studies related to genealogy. You may also download your completed DNA profile and later submit it to a site that allows law enforcement searches.
Law Enforcement has used DNA to solve crimes for years. However, DNA from a crime scene and or suspect collected by law enforcement is specific to an individual and uses a small portion of DNA markers for comparison. That more specific test is what would be entered into CODIS or Combined DNA Index System. CODIS would then search for a match in the system much like how fingerprint analysis and matching occurs. The short coming of this system is that CODIS typically only holds DNA records of persons already convicted of committing a crime. The majority of the population does not have their DNA in CODIS. This becomes important with unsolved crimes. Law Enforcement may very well have DNA from a crime scene but are unable to identify a suspect if that suspect hasn’t been arrested and convicted before.
Unlike law enforcement and the narrow and specific portion of DNA that law enforcement uses to make entries into CODIS, genealogy kits that citizens use to search their own specific genealogy and ethnic lineage examines much more of the submitted genetic material. This is where citizens can assist law enforcement in solving cases. As genealogy databases grow they often may hold the key for a forensic genealogist to find close genetic markers to determine the level and type of genetic relationship between individuals. A genetic genealogist would then research the family tree of those close matches back several generations which would then allow the genetic line which now would include many more family units to be built forward in time in hopes of identifying potential suspects in unsolved serious crimes like homicide and sexual assault.
The potential leads from this forensic examination would then allow law enforcement to utilize traditional investigative measures to identify a suspect and bring closure to families who may have been waiting years for answers to the loss of a loved one.
I ask that you consider downloading your DNA genealogy profiles from the DNA kit provider you utilized and upload that profile to GEDmatch or FamilyTreeDNA. Both companies and others allow users to select acceptable uses of the profile.
Have a safe and Happy Holiday.
- An NBC News report about how genetic genealogy solved a decades old crime
- For more information about DNA casework visit the FBI DNA casework site.
Chief Wayne A. Smith is currently employed by the City of Lodi Wi. Smith is a charter member (1996) of The Wisconsin Association of Homicide Investigators (WAHI) and held the office of President (2012-2013), and in 2011 was named Death Investigator of the Year by WAHI.