What Cops Know
DNA and Child Trafficking

Last week I wrote a story for The Crime Report, a fine online publication of the John Jay Center on Crime, Media and Justice in New York. The story, which you can find here:

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centers around the University of Grenada’s  (Spain) joint initiative with the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, DNA-Prokids. The nonprofit (and brainchild of Dr. Jose Lorente) has already compiled a successful record of bringing back home abducted children. These youngters are stolen for many reasons: adoptive purposes, to be indentured as servants or sex slaves, impressed as soldiers and even used to harvest their organs for sale.

Please read about the efforts of the fine people at DNA-Prokid and the job they’re doing. 

Putting the Puzzle Together

Oklahoma is the first, but won’t be the last, state to team with the University of North Texas and it’s famous human identification unit to bring the dead home to their families.

The UNT’s famous human identification project, which claims some of the top DNA experts in the country including Dr. Arthur Eisenberg, and its foundation recently kicked off its latest project. First launched in Oklahoma, the project’s goal is to collect DNA from sets of human remains buried and stored by officials in the state to cross-match against relatives of the missing. They will also step up efforts to obtain DNA from those families.

UNT’s database includes both families and remains from all regions in the US. It is hoped that by putting new DNA collected from remains into the system, some of the more than 40,000 unidentified dead can be identified and finally brought home.

The CSI Effect

You might have heard of the CSI effect: It’s the unreasonable expectation fostered by television shows like CSI. It has forever changed what takes place during trials.

Shows like CSI, NCIS and others like them are like modern versions of Starsky and Hutch, only in addition to silly action scenes, they have also have silly science. While I can live with some of it, much of what happens in these shows is simple science fiction — but jurors don’t know that.

On these new crime shows, one person does everything from DNA analysis to classifying fingerprints to handling fiber evidence. These disciplines take years to learn and I don’t care how smart the technician, one person not only couldn’t do it all, but think how credible would an expert be if he or she could testify to doing the work of any entire crime lab on their own? It would be like having a surgeon who is also a cardiologist, a neurologist, a dermatologist, a psychiatrist, a gastroenterologist and so on and so on. I don’t want someone like that operating on my heart — or handling my evidence.

But it’s not all bad: More young people are attracted to forensic science. The bad thing is that it taints a jury’s expectations. 

For a real-life look at how DNA is obtained and analyzed, check this out: http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/elsi/forensics.shtml.