SALEM, Va. (WFXR) — Virginia State Police has a new investigative tool at their disposal, a Rapid DNA testing machine, allowing authorities to receive results in less than two hours.
Special Agent Douglas Hubert is one of five investigators trained to use the machine — manufactured by ANDE — at Virginia State Police’s Salem division.
There are three of these Rapid DNA machines that are shared statewide between the Virginia State Police divisions.
“It’s a very big game changer. In the past, you know, I’m thinking back of cases that we’ve worked in the past, older cases where we knew that we had something that would probably link us to a person,” Hubert told WFXR News. “That could be DNA swabs that we collected at the scene of something and I think back to the interviews that we conducted at those cases, not knowing all the information that we could have known if we could have processed the DNA, and in fact, the cases ultimately were solved with the use of DNA, but it was the fact that it took anywhere from four to six months to get those results back, just to move the investigation along and that wasn’t even in preparation for court.”
The Rapid DNA machine not only helps police identify suspects, but it also allows them to exclude people from their investigations.
“That’s the other part is that we can remove somebody out of something very quickly and make sure that we are focused on the right people,” said Hubert. “A lot of investigations, into any type of crime, requires investigating false leads; it may be bad information or so forth and some of this can be mitigated through the collection of the DNA.”
It’s important to note that investigators cannot run the machine using random DNA from a crime scene. They must take DNA from a person and then compare it to other DNA evidence from a crime scene or their internal system. For Virginia State Police, that does not include the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which means agents like Hubert are only able to use DNA from their own system.
“This is also giving me a chance to, for a lack of better words, pre-screen things to determine whether it’s even a valid sample. Because, in law enforcement, if we gathered 20 items of what we expect to be DNA samples from a scene, we have to submit all 20 of those samples to the lab,” Hubert explained. “All 20 may not be good samples. They may not have collected DNA, they may not create a complete profile, but in a two hour window, I’m running four samples at a time. I’m determining whether those samples are even valid samples or not, so that when we do send something to the lab for court purposes or certification purposes, I know I’m sending them good samples.”
Currently, the Virginia State Police is only using the Rapid DNA machine for investigative purposes.
Hubert says they are collecting two samples at a time. One sample is put in the machine and another, if valid, is sent to the state lab for certification.
According to Hubert, the machine is 99.9% effective and follows the same steps that are used at the lab.
ANDE was first developed to bring fast DNA processing to field forward applications, like the U.S. military.
However, according to Julie French, the senior vice president of Global Scientific Support at ANDE, “the company has developed new applications, such as investigative use by police agencies, like the Virginia State Police, but it’s also being used for human identification by coroners and medical examiners. It’s being used in mass fatality incidents like large wild fires or aircraft incidents, where individuals may need to be identified. One of the other big applications for it is for the booking stations for processing DNA that’s collected from individuals that are arrested and their DNA is going to be entered into the national database; and then lastly, it’s used in a variety of counterterrorism activity and war zone conflict, and in fact, we have several instruments in Ukraine right now that are being used in that effort.”
French tells WFXR News that she worked in public safety before working for ANDE, like many of the company’s employees around the world.
“We want to bring Rapid DNA testing to people that need it, to people that can advance their investigation. They can save money by being able to solve their case faster, they can improve the safety of their community, we can exonerate the innocent,” French said.
“We can also make the world a safer place by identifying remains and giving family closure and cleaning up incidents that caused a lot of pain and grief to people around the world,” French added. “And we feel like public safety can really advance with Rapid DNA.”
ANDE’s goal is the same as Virginia State Police’s goal — making the world a safer place.
“This is a game changer. This is much better than fingerprints or anything else,” Hubert told WFXR News. “I think between your communication footprint and the DNA that’s being left at crime scenes, I think as time goes along, we’re going to see so much rapid solving of crimes and ultimately keep the community safer.”