In the coming months, the St. Charles County Police Department Criminalistics Laboratory will add another resource to its toolkit in solving crimes in the area, specifically enhancing the reliability and validity of complex DNA samples.
A new DNA analysis software, called ArmedXpert™, will allow the Crime Lab to more efficiently and effectively identify DNA profiles that involve multiple contributors. While the Lab’s accredited DNA analysis staff can do this now, the software assesses the DNA components much faster and even more accurately than by human review. I talked with Crime Lab Director Bryan Hampton to understand what this means for our police department and for St. Charles County as a whole.
He told me the software conducts a deconvolution process; it takes information from complex DNA mixtures and parses it out to organize the sample into identifiable profiles at a much higher speed than we can currently. It allows us to extract more information from the data, and garner more usable profiles from complex samples that have multiple contributors, or subjects.
Bryan says this technology will play an important role in cases such as burglaries, stolen vehicles and even homicides.
When there is a mixture of DNA in a sample, Bryan said it is a tedious process to analyze and accurately glean a usable profile to identify which DNA belongs to which individual. The Crime Lab has the capability to do that already, but the complexity and length of time of the process is greatly reduced with this software—from hours down to minutes.
Why does this matter for a St. Charles County resident? This means our Crime Lab can process more forensic evidence, more efficiently. With a workload of more than 2,500 cases each year, there is no shortage of evidence to examine and analyze. Any link from evidence to existing data, or addition of new data, helps cut down the time it takes to charge and prosecute suspects, and fairly and expeditiously aid the judicial process.
Regionally, DNA profiles, fingerprints and ballistic evidence uploaded by the department to investigative databases have provided links between cases. In 2022 alone, 162 DNA profiles uploaded by the Lab to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database “hit” to prior offenders, arrestees, and crime scene samples from across the country. This valuable information has an impact on current cases, but also has helped solve cold cases, such as the 1993 kidnapping and murder of Angie Housman, the 1984 murder of Eleonora Knoernschild, and the 1990-1991 “package killer” murders of five women.
Bryan says this new software will potentially allow the Lab to upload more DNA profiles into CODIS that otherwise may not be eligible. With that, there could be more database hits and the department could make more contributions to solving crime regionally as well as nationally.
While we take pride in keeping our county safe, it’s no secret that crime has impacted our region, and criminals hold no regard for jurisdictional boundaries when committing a criminal act or attempting to flee. We should all be proud of the work of our Crime Lab and how valuable it is in assisting in fighting crime. It is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) National Accreditation Board (ANAB) and has been continuously since 2007. The Lab is staffed by six full-time scientists, a part-time firearm examiner and a part-time evidence clerk with nearly 120 years of combined forensic science experience.