The Harris County Sheriff's Office threw a little soiree for the media Monday afternoon to trumpet the department's apparent success using DNA collected at crime scenes to solve burglaries.
But the real lesson Hair Balls took away from the announcement is this: Thieves and robbers in Harris County, it's time to buy a pair of rubber gloves.
Garcia said that for the past year or so, sheriff's deputies have been carrying around DNA collection kits, with an increasing emphasis on finding and analyzing DNA found during property crime investigations. This focus is in addition to the DNA evidence collection routinely performed for violent crime cases.
"Remembering my days on patrol on the streets of Houston with my often dusty fingerprint kit," Garcia said, "of all the times I used it, I got three hits from fingerprints that I successfully lifted. We are in the 21st Century now and we should be using 21st Century technology."
Garcia said that from January 1, 2009 through Monday, law enforcement agencies in Harris County have collected 1,663 DNA samples during property crime investigations, 1,186 of which, or 71 percent, have been gathered by the sheriff's office. Of those taken into evidence by the HCSO, analysts have found a match 29 percent of the time, or in 339 instances.
Garcia claims this is well above the national average of 12 percent. He did not, however, say how many total property crime investigations his department has taken on since that January 1, 2009 date.
Getting a DNA match doesn't mean the department always gets their man, anyway.
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Lt. Jeff Stauber regaled the assembled press with a story about a case in September in which a man broke into a trailer home and left his DNA on a shattered window. The DNA was analyzed and a match was found within a national DNA indexing system. When the officers found the suspected burglar, he agreed to a DNA test and three weeks later, the match was confirmed. Investigators had their man. And what's more, a police department outside New York City also wanted him on an unrelated charge. However, when the Harris County folks went to arrest him, the man had fled. Stauber said the man is still at large.
Despite the remarkably fast time in which DNA analysts can now detect a match -- several weeks as opposed to years -- Garcia admits that knowing who the suspect is and getting him behind bars are two different things.
"They're not waiting around for us to arrest them," he said. But, "We will continue to work to find ways to collect DNA ... and collect it where we can, in legal ways, so we can link to" suspected criminals.
The DNA kits, which Garcia says cost his department 58 cents a pop, can be used once and consist of a box, a plastic tube to hold liquid specimens, a long q-tip, and a pair of rubber gloves -- just like the ones a smarty crook in Harris County should probably own.