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DNA More Effective Than Fingerprints in Solving Property Crimes

Document date: June 16, 2008
Released online: June 16, 2008

Contact: Elizabeth Cronen, (202) 261-5723, ecronen@urban.org

Washington, D.C., June 16, 2008—DNA evidence isn't a typical tool for investigating property crimes like burglary, but a new Urban Institute report reveals that biological evidence can be remarkably effective in solving and prosecuting such crimes.

In their study, researchers from the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center find analyzing DNA evidence from property crime scenes helps identify suspects in twice as many cases, yields twice as many arrests, and leads to prosecution more than twice as often, compared to cases built only on more traditional evidence, such as eyewitness identification and fingerprints.

The study compared traditional crime-solving to a combined approach that includes DNA analysis. When conventional investigative techniques were used alone, a suspect was identified 12 percent of the time, compared to 31 percent of the cases that also used DNA evidence. A suspect was arrested in 8 percent of cases built using only traditional methods, compared to the 16 percent arrest rate in DNA cases. The average added cost for processing a case with DNA evidence was $1,397.

Compared to fingerprint evidence alone, DNA was far more likely to lead to suspects and result in arrests. In crime scenes where biological evidence was collected and tested, DNA evidence was five times more likely than fingerprints to yield a suspect and nine times more likely to lead to an arrest.

The report considered 1,841 cases where DNA evidence was available. The cases were investigated between 2005 and 2007 in Denver, Los Angeles, Orange County (CA), Phoenix, and Topeka.

Using DNA to solve property crimes could mean big changes for local law enforcement authorities, says coauthor John Roman, the study's principal investigator. "Residential burglaries, commercial burglaries, and thefts from automobiles are common, and their crime scenes might yield far more biological evidence than crime labs are set up to process. With this heightened opportunity, the police will need extra training and time to collect the evidence—and to pursue perpetrators—and labs will need additional funding to process the evidence."

The report, “The DNA Field Experiment: Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of the Use of DNA in the Investigation of High-Volume Crimes,” was written by John Roman, Shannon Reid, Jay Reid, Aaron Chalfin, William Adams, and Carly Knight and was funded by the National Institute of Justice. It is available at: http://www.urban.org/url.cfm?ID=411697.

The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization that examines the social, economic, and governance challenges facing the nation.

Topics/Tags: | Crime/Justice

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