Georgia’s DNA database, the second-largest in the Southeast, reached more than 3,500 hits to unsolved cases last month. That total trails South Carolina, Florida and Alabama, where forensic scientists are making more matches and aiding more criminal investigations than the Peach State, records show.
The trend might not last much longer. Georgia officials say that after lacking sufficient guidelines in tracking and reporting hits to its DNA database five years ago, its operating procedures are now more detailed and its system is averaging 500 hits a year.
Georgia and its neighbors support the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, contributing more than 1.6 million genetic profiles to the shared databank used to solve cold cases nationwide.
Because of its population of about 19 million, Florida’s database tops the Southeast in DNA profiles (1 million), hits to unsolved cases (28,000), and criminal investigations aided (23,000).
Georgia, whose population of 9.9 million is more than Alabama’s (4.8 million) and South Carolina’s (4.7 million) combined, only exceeds its neighbors to the east and west in DNA profiles provided. Georgia has contributed 280,000 samples, while Alabama and South Carolina have provided 232,000 and 190,000 profiles.
In hits to unsolved cases, Georgia has made 3,555, enough to help 4,645 investigations.
Other states are doing better. South Carolina’s crime lab has made 5,650 hits to unsolved cases, enough to aid 4,717 investigations. Alabama has aided
5,127 investigations through its 4,240 hits to unsolved cases.
Vernon Keenan, the director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said the reason for the low numbers is that it took 10 years before the agency’s DNA database reached 1,000 hits to unsolved cases in August 2008.
Before 2008, there weren’t many guidelines on how to accurately track and report hits, said Cleveland Miles, the manager of the GBI’s DNA section.
Today, he said, Georgia’s method of tracking each match is “far more detailed.” He said his lab requires all known samples before attempting DNA testing in suspect cases.
The result, records show, is the GBI averaging 500 hits a year and receiving more cases in which investigators have already identified suspects, thus eliminating the need for a direct hit to the FBI’s system.
The GBI’s DNA database continues to solve cold cases dating back as far as 1986, Keenan said. This year, the system aided in the “Maintenance Man” rapes, which occurred in the late 1980s across several metro Atlanta counties.
Augusta District Attorney Ashley Wright said her offices do not count the number of cases that come across their desks as a result of a DNA match. However, she said each time her staff is notified by the GBI of a possible match, they contact the investigating agency to make sure they don’t miss a possible suspect.
For example, she said she has a pending case in which a defendant’s sample from a murder investigation was tested and solved three crimes in the same neighborhood. Wright would not provide the suspect’s name because it’s part of an ongoing investigation.
“The DNA database is helping with more than just unsolved murder cases,” Wright said. “It’s also helping with rapes, burglaries, car break-ins and just about anything else that you can think of where someone would leave behind a biological sample.”
Wright said when there is a sample in the state’s database, it means the suspect has been convicted or suspected of a crime and shows a “pattern of criminality which needs to be recognized and addressed.”
“We are very grateful for the ability to be able to identify perpetrators and let victims know that someone remembers their case,” Wright said. “The Combined DNA Index System is a tremendous asset to law enforcement.”