Goose Creek cops using private DNA testing to solve crimes faster

Goose Creek police are using a private company for DNA testing.
Goose Creek police are using a private company for DNA testing.

GOOSE CREEK, SC (WCSC) - There is a monstrous backlog at the state crime lab. At times, more than 4,000 DNA samples from crimes across the state are waiting to be processed at the State Law Enforcement Division lab.

A local police department is tired of playing the state's waiting game and has found another way to solve crimes, using their own budget to fund forensic science.

The crime scene is First Federal Bank on St. James Avenue in Goose Creek, which was robbed in May 2011.

In the surveillance video, a man in line shows the teller a note to hand over the money. Crimes like this one happen so quickly, but often take months of police work. Forensic evidence, DNA, can speed up the process.

"It's a brilliant science," said Capt. Dave Soderberg with the Goose Creek Police Department. "And it's very exact."

Soderberg and his team take sealed packets from their evidence room, headed not to the SLED lab in Columbia, but instead to Intelligenetics, a private accredited lab in Hilton Head Island. Goose Creek police pay for this testing and get test results back in days.

While the SLED lab is free, the wait time can be eight to 10 months, time Soderberg says the bad guys are out there committing more crimes.

For the past year, the Goose Creek Police Department has funded its own forensics. In the First Federal Bank case, police had an arrest warrant six days after the suspect leaned on the bank counter.

"When he did that he left some of his DNA where his arms made contact with the counter top he left some of his DNA," said Dr. Daniel Dremers, director of Intelligenetics.

So how do police know who left the DNA on the counter? The suspect wasn't the only person at the bank counter. The man in front of the alleged suspect also left his DNA on the counter. Crime scene investigators say that in this particular case, when the robber leans in to show his message to the teller, he is taking away some of the first man's DNA and leaving a lot more of his behind. DNA samples will be a mixture, but most will be from the last man there.

In this case, police got more DNA evidence from the suspect's sunglasses, which were found outside the bank.

DNA can't been seen by the naked eye, but a good crime scene investigator can collect thousands of microscopic human cells. It only takes 15 to 20 to make a solid case.

"The DNA that we're interested in is on that swab," Demers said.

Demers' job is to analyze the cells people leave behind.

"It could be a handgun and there may be more than one person that's handled the gun and for some reason they think one person might be on the trigger and somebody else be on the magazine within the gun," Demers said.

The DNA is a person's blueprint and is unique to that individual.

"(In this case) it matched our suspect here perfectly," Soderberg said.

Fingerprints are also unique to us. Before DNA testing, police were frustrated when prints were smeared, but that isn't the case anymore.

"Now we know we can wipe those, swab those areas and we can get that DNA," Soderberg said.

Not every Goose Creek crime will get this treatment. The department has to decide which cases will get the most bang for the taxpayer's buck. Sodoerberg believes private DNA testing saves money in the long run by getting criminals off the streets quickly and fingering the right suspect.

"It makes sure proof positive that the guilty are guilty and the innocent are innocent which is very important to us," Soderberg said.

The Hilton Head lab has a regional database called "Rodis," which identified a suspect in another Goose Creek case. Police went to the man's house and found a second suspect, the gun used in the crime and stolen goods.

Last year, the department paid $8,000 for DNA analysis.

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