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Sheriff helping state fix DNA problem

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Pedro Oliveira Jr.
November 16, 2009

Lack of preparation is one of the reasons authorities failed to maintain DNA records for thousands of felons in Wisconsin, Walworth County's sheriff said.


The state's Department of Justice in September conducted an audit that revealed Wisconsin's DNA database is missing records for about 12,000 felons less than 10 years after legislation was enacted requiring felons to provide DNA samples to corrections authorities.


The number of missing samples was uncovered after officials found out records for a Milwaukee felon suspected on a string of killings turned out to be a duplicate of another man's DNA and fingerprints.


Walworth County Sheriff David Graves is one of the three men overseeing the task force in charge of fixing the problem. The other two are former Madison Assistant Police Chief Chuck Cole and Gary Hamblin, an administrator with the Department of Justice's Law Enforcement Services.


"That law was passed late in the year and we had about two months to get everything in place," Graves said. "I think what we're doing should've probably been done when this law was passed.


"People should have sat around the table and said, 'OK, how are we going to do this?'"


Graves said each county does things their own way. Some collect DNA samples upon conviction; others have scheduled dates when they collect samples of all recently convicted inmates.


The DNA task force's job is to identify what policies should be in place and to ensure every county is collecting the required data. Officials in the task force range from lab technicians to law enforcement leaders. They meet regularly and have meetings scheduled well into December.


"The question is: What do we do with the ones that didn't give the sample and are no longer incarcerated or under supervision of any kind," Graves said.


That could be more than 4,000 felons, Graves said. For now, officials are playing the waiting game. The state Attorney General's Office is expected to release an opinion clarifying whether corrections authorities are allowed to require felons not in custody or under supervision to submit samples.


So local law enforcement agents continue to catch up any way they can.


In Rock County, officials have submitted more than 200 samples to the Department of Corrections, said Cmdr. Troy Knudson with the Rock County Sheriff's Office.


"They came in pretty much voluntarily for several days over a two-week period," he said. "We took a pretty good number of samples."


Walworth County officials are caught up on their samples, Graves said.


In Walworth and Rock counties, samples are taken by a corrections officer upon conviction. The Department of Corrections sends DNA collection kits to local authorities. Officers are trained to collect samples from felons and send sealed packages back to the state's crime lab to be inserted in the DNA database.


Other counties use different procedures, Graves said. The sheriff is confident that opening the conversation among authorities across Wisconsin will create better policies and procedures.


"We're trying to identify every possibility of how it happened to fix the problem, move on and make sure it doesn't happen again," he said.



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