Local law enforcement agencies use FDLE's genetic genealogy program to solve cold cases

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said that, within the first year of its genetic genealogy program, it solved cold cases more than 35 years old.

"One year ago, FDLE created its genetic genealogy investigations program to help law enforcement agencies solve cold case homicides and sexual assaults," said FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen. "Today, Florida is a national leader in using genetic genealogy as an investigative tool."

Genetic genealogy uses a public online database of DNA to research the family history and establish relationships. This allows the FDLE and law enforcement agencies to find relatives of a potential suspect.

The team includes experts in genetic genealogy, analytical research, forensics and investigations who work with local agencies.

Action News Jax confirmed that two local law enforcement agencies -- the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and the Clay County Sheriff's Office -- use the program.

JSO said it has used genetic genealogy to link a suspect to a series of sexual batteries that happened in August. They said investigators were able to link evidence from the victims to Brandon Young's brother in jail because of his DNA sample.

The courts allow law enforcement agencies to take a DNA sample from anyone who has been arrested. Once the sample is in the system, law enforcement, state and government agencies have a link to the person's family.

"The government considers DNA the same thing as a fingerprint," Action News Jax law and safety expert Dale Carson said. "That's how they get around this desire to swab the inside of the cheek in order to obtain DNA from individuals who are arrested and possibly prosecuted."

Carson said that, although he recognizes the benefit of genealogy to find criminals, he believes it could have terrifying repercussions in the long run.

"There are two sides to this equation," Carson said. "The first is: That's great. We're identifying bad people. The other side to it is: Genetic code is the only we have that's really personal and should be kept private."

Carson said genetic genealogy is not regulated in the United States. Right now, it's unclear who all has access to the database, what the agencies are using it for, and how long the DNA samples are stored.


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