Robotics cuts crime lab back log

A $500,000 robotics system has cut the turnaround time for DNA evidence analysis at the Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab from a six months back log to completion in two to four weeks. The faster turnaround means innocent suspects are ruled out quicker and charges brought sooner against alleged criminals.

Processing of DNA evidence from local police departments now begins as soon as it is received, Denise Rankin, assistant director of the crime lab said. Each case may have 10 to 50 evidence samples for testing.

The crime lab has long been one of the region’s stopgap agencies against crime, providing fingerprint identification, DNA analysis and blood, drug and semen testing for area law enforcement. Laboratory testing has become an increasing and vital aspect of law enforcement, and is often the difference between a closed case and one that remains unsolved for months or even years.

Under the manual DNA processing system, crime lab analysts applied chemicals to a sample — blood, tissue or saliva — with a syringe, one drop at a time. That process must be repeated multiple times for each sample. The Tecan Freedom EVO 200 robotics system processes samples eight at a time increasing monthly case completions from 50 to 80.

“Robots aren’t going to have fatigue after processing 150 samples. A robot doesn’t go home at the end of the day,” Mark Squibb, supervisor for the DNA and trace evidence sections of the crime lab said “Hands on time has been reduced to practically nothing. It has moved the bottleneck out.”

Work that once took four or five days, can be completed in a few hours or overnight and doesn’t require human intervention. The Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab was the first crime lab in the state — besides The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCI) in London — to have the robotics system fully operational, Rankin said.

The speed of the robotics means police get vital information faster.

On the evening of January 26, at 7:45 p.m., a young woman was attacked by a white male in Kettering while she sat in her vehicle, in the parking lot of a local department store, in the 2800 block of Wilmington Pike. The suspect obtained control of the vehicle and drove the woman to a nearby street, parked the car, and continued the assault. The struggle continued until the man finally gave up in his attempt, and fled the area on foot.

DNA vidence collected from the scene by Kettering police was forwarded to the Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab, with a request for expidited analysis. Within a week one suspect was eliminated. The following week the DNA analysis led to Wade E. Adams, age 41, of Kettering being charged with two counts of Kidnapping, three counts of Gross Sexual Imposition, one count of Grand Theft and one count of Tampering with Evidence.

“It was a very fast turnaround,” Officer Ronald Roberts, public information officer for the Kettering Police Department said.

The crime lab began purchasing parts of the robotics system in 2005, then added pieces as federal grants became available. The work stations became fully operational about a year ago. It has taken that time, plus hiring a fourth analyst, to eliminate the backlog, Rankin said.

While the robots do the processing, staff must still set up the samples, do data analysis and document results.

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