GREENSBORO, NC – On TV crime shows, detectives have a limited time to find the killer. Normally, an hour, give or take commercial breaks. So, in the magical world of entertainment, DNA evidence is somehow collected and tested in 15 to 30 minutes. But, that’s not how it happens in the real world. It can take months or even years for DNA test results and detectives don’t get commercial breaks.
“With this day and time with crime being as it is we have to turn around tests as quick as possible so that we can get the perpetrator off the street,” said Colonel Randy Powers.
Now, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office is taking advantage of cutting-edge technology, allowing them to fast-track their test results.
“Now, we can have it in two hours,” said Powers.
It’s all because of a brand new Rapid DNA machine, recently purchased by GCSO for $250,000 in June. GCSO is only the third sheriff’s office in the nation to acquire the technology.
The machine, about the size of a large printer works by simply inserting DNA samples into a plastic cartridge and pressing a green button. Two hours later, the results are in. No more waiting.
“It can take a third-party lab a week with a rush, or 15 days, 3 months. Sending something to the state lab took two years one time with a case in High Point,” Powers explained. “You have a criminal walking around during that period of time due to no probable due to no DNA testing."
The machine is faster, but costs twice as much as a third-party lab to conduct a test. The chemicals are expensive and the machine must be certified three to four times a year. The cost varies from $150 to $350 for a test. Although the North Carolina lab is free, as Powers explained, the waiting game is too risky.
“That one lab supports the entire state and you have well over 300 law enforcement agencies that they have to support so they are not able to turn around as fast,” said Powers.
Powers explained the FBI is currently considering placing machines in more areas, which could lower the cost of supplies and maintenance.
The Sheriff’s Office will only use the machine for big jobs, like solving murders, because of the cost. The powerful machine can run tests on small samples of DNA, from gum to cigarettes to cotton swabs. However, it won’t be used for rape DNA because it can’t separate the DNA from other fluids. So, those will still have to be sent the state lab.
The Rapid DNA machine hasn't been used in a case just yet in Guilford County. Right now, the machine is running sample tests, to know it's working properly. It’s the only way the court system will accept real results. That process takes up to 60 days.