VALHALLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A high-tech crime-fighting tool once reserved for solving murders and rapes is now being used to bust petty criminals.
As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, the scene at the Westchester County Crime Lab looks like something out of a TV crime show, with blue lights shining down on a garment being inspected for DNA.
As dramatized on “CSI,” the serious crimes such as rape and murder are investigated in the evidence examining room at the lab. But the same technology is also being used for an expanding number of crimes, including everyday burglaries and car break-ins.
“It’s kind of cool,” said lab director Bob Adamo. “You call up the detectives and say ,’By the way, we know who committed that burglary of so-and-so and they say, ‘Gee, that guy wasn’t even on our radar!’”
By the numbers, Westchester runs about 900 DNA samples per year. This year, nearly half – a total of 430 – have been taken at the scenes of burglaries and other property crimes.
Out of roughly 200 usable samples, 70 or more lead to identified suspects.
In the squad room at the Harrison Police Department, detectives are equipped with field kits for DNA sampling. The practice is now as common as dusting for fingerprints.
“It’s pretty straightforward,” said Harrison police Detective William Curow.
“No case is too small,” added Harrison police Chief Chief Anthony Maraccini. ”If you can stop crime and help people, we’re here to do that.”
The expansion of DNA technology is a big change, because detectives in the 47 police departments in Westchester County have been trained in the rudimentary steps of DNA evidence collecting — swabbing something as mundane as a pair of glasses and sending it off to the lab.
“The criminals who watch ‘CSI’ and say, ‘I’m not going to make that mistake’ – they always leave something behind,” Adamo said.
Recently in Scarsdale, a drop of blood was found inside a burglarized car. In Harrison, saliva was swabbed from a water bottle, and in Port Chester, perspiration was discovered on a car headrest.
“If not every week, then every other week,” the lab calls a police department after identifying a suspect, said crime lab forensic scientist Mary Eustace.
The scientists at the Westchester County Crime Lab are running roughly 100 DNA cases at any one time. Lab staff said they have no backlog.
Westchester County has a seven-figure budget for DNA testing. Federal grants help, but county taxpayers foot most of the bill. Costs are expected to drop.
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