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O.C. to create DNA database

Supervisors approve a plan to collect samples of people on probation. Critics say such programs should have state oversight.

January 24, 2007|Christian Berthelsen | Times Staff Writer

Orange County's district attorney won approval Tuesday from the Board of Supervisors for a contract that allows him to create a local database of DNA samples of people on probation.

Under the program, DNA will be collected as a condition of probation and the evidence will be stored for comparison against evidence collected at crime scenes. Local law enforcement officials say it will be the first program of its kind in the nation.

Under Proposition 69, approved by voters in 2004, DNA samples are collected from all convicted felons and maintained in a statewide database. The program will expand in 2009 to include all adults arrested for a felony. But the new program will expand such collections in Orange County to include those charged with misdemeanors.

On Tuesday, supervisors unanimously approved Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas' request for an $875,000 contract with the British-government-owned company Forensic Science Service Ltd. for the DNA analysis.

Sheriff Michael S. Carona praised the program during the board hearing, calling it "cutting edge" and "unique."

Forensic Science Service has a reputation for fast and high-quality analysis work, and its pricing is considered competitive with U.S. companies'. Rackauckas said samples are frozen and sent on dry ice and that they would suffer no more degradation than those mailed to labs in other parts of the state or nation.

Still, the growth of DNA collection programs, and the number of agencies conducting them, is raising concerns. William Thompson, a lawyer and DNA expert in UC Irvine's School of Criminology, helped draft guidelines governing the use of DNA evidence. Among the recommendations was that the databases and policies governing their use should be maintained by the state.

"The rapid expansion leaves me uncomfortable," he said. "It doesn't seem like a wise use of resources. It seems more like a district attorney trying to top other D.A.s in the DNA arena."

The contract with the British company appears to have resolved a battle between Rackauckas and Carona over who should be in charge of analyzing genetic evidence from Orange County crime scenes.

For several months, Rackauckas has been proposing to hire private labs, saying he needed faster results than the Sheriff's Department produced. Carona, meanwhile, argued that the Sheriff's Department could work faster if the Board of Supervisors gave additional money to his crime lab rather than awarding contracts to private companies.

In August, Rackauckas won board approval -- over Carona's objection -- to send DNA evidence from crime scenes in Santa Ana and Anaheim to a company based in Richmond, Calif. The Sheriff's Department crime lab continues to process the evidence in all other cases.

Part of the compromise was an agreement between the sheriff, the district attorney and other law enforcement officials to launch a working group that will focus on how DNA analysis will be carried out in the future.

christian.berthelsen@latimes.com

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