DeWine provides updates on DNA, drug, criminal ID initiatives - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

AG makes progress with DNA, drug, criminal identification initiatives

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COLUMBUS, OH (Toledo News Now) -

On Monday, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine provided updates regarding multiple initiatives within the Attorney General's Office, including adding forensic scientists to test rape kits, new synthetic drug legislative efforts and a new tool to help law enforcement identify criminals and victims.

Sexual Assault Kit Testing: New Scientists

DeWine is creating six new forensic scientist positions at the Bureau of Criminal Investigation in an effort to increase the rate at which kits submitted as part of the Sexual Assault Kit Testing Initiative are tested for DNA.

In December 2011, DeWine requested that law enforcement agencies with untested rape kits send them to BCI for free evidence testing. Four additional forensic scientist positions were created to enhance BCI's focus on the old kits.

Since then, law enforcement agencies have submitted 3,446 kits, some dating back more than 20 years. In October 2012, the newly-hired forensic scientists were trained and BCI fully implemented its SAK testing processes. As of Aug. 25, 2013, scientists have tested 1,436 kits, resulting in 439 DNA hits in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). 

BCI has also developed a streamlined DNA testing process that will decrease the amount of time previously needed to test each kit.

"Speeding up this testing process is something that has to be done," said DeWine. "The sooner we get these kits tested, the fewer opportunities these predators have to commit additional crimes. These criminals have already been on the streets way too long, and we owe it to the victims to do everything we can to help."

The Cleveland Police Department has submitted the largest number of kits, followed by the Akron, Cincinnati, and Toledo police departments. The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office has received dozens of indictments as a direct result of the initiative.

Synthetic Drugs: New Legislative Efforts

DeWine has also announced that his office is now working on new, long-term legislation to combat the ongoing emergence of new synthetic drugs.

"Our scientists who test the synthetic drugs submitted to BCI's crime lab are seeing much less of the substances already banned under House Bills 64 and 334, but brand new chemicals are being uncovered," said DeWine.

In June, DeWine and the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy announced they were partnering to expedite the process of banning the new chemicals. The first round of bans through the partnership is expected to happen as early as October.

In an effort to further speed up the process of banning chemicals as soon as they are found to be a risk to the public, the Attorney General's Office is additionally working on new legislation that will request the state be able to immediately ban chemicals once they are deemed dangerous. The drafting of the legislation is still in its early stages and would include a public hearing process, following a chemical's emergency ban.

Since the beginning of 2013, DeWine has filed 14 civil lawsuits, including nine nuisance abatement actions, against businesses and individuals in Ohio accused of selling synthetic drugs. 

Additional strides in the fight against synthetic drugs include BCI investigatory assistance in more than a dozen synthetic drug investigations, plus assistance from the Attorney General's Special Prosecutions Unit in more than 20 synthetic drug prosecutions.

Methamphetamine: Labs Increase

According to DeWine, the recent analysis of the number of methamphetamine labs found in the state has spiked to 770 cases.

"This is the largest number of labs that our local and state law enforcement officers have responded to in a single year since BCI started keeping statistics in 2005," said DeWine. 

Meth labs are tallied based on the October-September fiscal year and reflect only the meth lab cases reported to BCI.

The yearly totals are as follows:

-2005: 444
-2006: 243
-2007: 177
-2008: 112
-2009: 348
-2010: 359
-2011: 375
-2012: 607
-2013: 770 as of Aug. 24

"We believe that there are several reasons for the increase: one being that Ohio's law enforcement officers are aggressively seeking out these labs and finding them," explained DeWine. "However, there are more labs out there to find. We estimate that approximately 95 percent of the methamphetamine labs found today are the so-called 'one-pot' labs."

A "one-pot" lab can be created by using a mixture of chemicals in a soda or sports drink bottle. These labs are less complicated and cheaper than the in-home labs that law enforcement typically found several years ago.

BCI agents regularly train law enforcement officers on the procedures to dismantle a meth lab. Agents have also taught dozens of community courses on how to identify the signs of a meth lab.

Criminal Identification: New Tool for Law Enforcement

Additionally, DeWine announced that a new tool for law enforcement to aid in criminal identification is now available through the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (OHLEG).

Development of the new facial recognition technology began in 2010 and became accessible to law enforcement in June 2013.

"When a wanted offender is identified quickly, it can prevent additional crimes and even save lives, and that is what this new technology aims to do," DeWine said. "It will give law enforcement the ability quickly compare a photograph of a suspect or crime victim against the photo records that they already have access to, such as mug shots and Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicle photos." 

The facial recognition program can aid in several types of investigations to help identify:

-Criminals from surveillance footage
-Unidentified homicide victims
-Suspects who refuse to provide their identity
-Alzheimer's, dementia, or amnesia sufferers
-Human trafficking victims being forced to pose for photos online

"The photo comparison technology is not as exact as fingerprint and DNA technology; It is simply the automation of a search capability that has been in place for years," explained DeWine. "This tool will help law enforcement do the work they are already doing, only faster."

Facial recognition technology works by using facial measurements and is currently used in dozens of other states. 

Since June, law enforcement agencies in Ohio have used the program 2,677 times. An advisory group is currently being formed to review the system's usage and suggest additional policies to prevent misuse, which is a felony offense.

Copyright 2013 Toledo News Now. All rights reserved.

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