Through a local DNA database, Bensalem, Pennsylvania, has begun to leverage DNA in every possible case and has created a truly investigative tool.
Earlier this year in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, a woman walked outside to find her car vandalized. It had eggs thrown on it and beer dumped all over it. It was washable, but nonetheless annoying and somewhat frightening. She believed that the perpetrator might well be her ex-boyfriend, not some random stranger or stalker; vandalism of a vehicle in the context of a “domestic” dispute. In other words, a guy throws some stuff on his ex-girlfriend’s car—not the crime of the century. This isn’t even the break-in of a home with hundreds of dollars worth of damage. In some jurisdictions, even if only due to limited resource constraints, this case might not receive the greatest attention.
But in Bensalem, no case is too minor to warrant consideration for DNA analysis. The vandal left two beer bottles on the car after emptying the contents onto the victim’s hood. The bottles were collected and swabbed by the police. Note, the bottles weren’t sent to the crime lab, they were swabbed by the patrol officer and the swabs were sent to the lab. As it turns out, the victim was exactly right, it was her ex-boyfriend who had vandalized her car.
Can you imagine being that defendant at the preliminary hearing? He shows up for what his cronies are saying is a case in which the ex probably won’t even show up, and the DA says, “here’s the DNA report.” Even more, imagine the reaction of the defense attorney. I’m not even sure that CSI SVU, Miami, Las Vegas, or anywhere else has ever done a vandalism/ex-boyfriend show. Sure maybe a vandalized car with a dead body in the trunk or a serial vandal targeting high ranking officials or celebrities. But this was a “domestic,” not a homicide, rape, or even burglary or car theft.
The reason is because Bensalem has gone “all in” with DNA. Having partnered with a private laboratory that also maintains its local DNA database, Bensalem has begun to leverage DNA in every possible case and has created a truly investigative tool. Having established a relationship with a fully accredited laboratory that guarantees a three week turnaround time and sends results directly to an officer’s patrol car laptop, Bensalem has bypassed the restrictions and lag time that often accompany reliance on under funded state laboratories. The Director of Public Safety, Fred Harran, has taken control of DNA’s application, eliminated those roadblocks that prevent the effective and efficient use of DNA and is ensuring that, because DNA is being used quickly and often, the people of his community are safer. While recognizing the critical role that state laboratories play across the country, especially in more complex cases, Director Harran has taken ownership of the investigative potential of DNA.