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Rapid DNA machine newest weapon for Sheriff's Office

Testing station can link suspects to unsolved crimes in less than 90 minutes

Don Coble
Posted 6/6/24

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The Clay County Sheriff’s Office’s newest weapon to stop crime only needs a little spit, not a gun or badge, to complete its job. The agency’s newest gadget, a RapidHIT …

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Rapid DNA machine newest weapon for Sheriff's Office

Testing station can link suspects to unsolved crimes in less than 90 minutes


Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The Clay County Sheriff’s Office’s newest weapon to stop crime only needs a little spit, not a gun or badge, to complete its job.

The agency’s newest gadget, a RapidHIT ID System machine, will use DNA to prevent wanted criminals from being released before they can be identified by other forms of testing. Sheriff Michelle Cook said the new machine will expedite the identification of criminals linked to unsolved crimes and dead people during an informal presentation for Florida Sen. Jennifer Bradley last Monday.

“This is so exciting. I can’t wait because I know the next evolution is going to be a crime scene instant DNA,” she said. “If somebody breaks into a house, there’s now an ability to swab it right there. We wanted to be one of the first in the state to get this because I want that to be the next step.”

Counties used to have to wait between 45 and 90 days for DNA results from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. By then, Cook said anyone wanted for another crime would likely have bonded out. The RapidHIT DNA machine can return a result in about 85-90 minutes before the arrestee makes a bond appearance.

“So that allows you to have that information before they get released (on bond). I mean, that’s a big deal,” Bradley said.

“Before they’ve got a first appearance because in that 90 minutes, we’ll actually get their DNA through (National Crime Information Center), and we’ll be able to match it,” said CCSO deputy Charles Harwood.

“You could have an unsolved case, and you get a hit before they’re released, and you’re able to tie this individual to an unsolved prominent crime in another jurisdiction somewhere as opposed to having to wait 45-90 days …” Bradley said.

“And the person’s out doing it again,” Cook said.

“That’s a pretty big deal,” Bradley said.

The machine from Thermo Fisher Scientific cost about $130,000, but it came as part of a $250,000 grant given to the agency last September. Eleven mid-sized counties, including Flagler, Baker and Nassau counties in Northeast Florida, were selected to receive a portion of the $2.75 million allotted in the current budget by the Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Bradley, along with Reps. Sam Garrison and Bobby Payne, representing all or portions of Clay County, voted in favor of the bill.

During the booking process, if the suspect meets one of the following criteria, a DNA sample is taken from five swabs of their mouth. According to Harwood, an arrestee charged with homicide, assault, battery, culpable negligence, kidnapping, custody offenses, human trafficking, false imprisonment, luring or enticing a child, weapons or firearms offenses, sexual battery, lewdness, indecent exposure, burglary and trespassing, theft, robbery and related crimes, drug abuse, prevention and control can be tested.

People tested in Clay County are more likely to be charged with violent crimes like murder, attempted murder and sex crimes, Harwood said. He expects the county to average 2.2 tests a day. Each test costs $135.

“This is going to be for anybody that comes that’s been arrested and has no DNA profile on file at FDLE or in any county,” Harwood said. So basically, when we fingerprint them and look at their charges, we determine whether they’re eligible because several statutes are required. Right, they’re also those that require us to take DNA. So what we do is fingerprint them. We have a scanner over there. Our live scan is our fingerprint machine, and it’s tied into rapid DNA.”

Each test kit has an RFID reader that must be scanned when opened and before it is placed inside the RapidHIT ID machine to ensure a chain of custody. The swab is then pushed into a cartridge and inserted into the machine. Less than 90 minutes later, it provides information about a match with FDLE or any other agency or no match at all.

“It helps because sometimes if they’re in here for a serious crime or they know they’re wanted, they don’t give us their real name,” Cook said.

Bradley said Cook's insistence was a big reason Clay County was one of 11 in Florida to get the machine.

“We’ve got the technology. It’s just expensive,” she said. “The larger counties have the ability to secure the funds to get it. But in the mid-size growing counties, you don’t want to see an uptick in some of this violent crime; we’ve got to get them the tools to get to the communities.

“This doesn’t happen without the counties advocating for it and reaching out to the state and saying, ‘Look, we need it,’ and that’s what y’all did. That’s what the sheriff did. And that makes a big difference.”

The RapidHIT ID System DNA machine will go live on Friday, June 7.