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Researchers to analyze DNA in rape, murder cases

Hundreds of thousands of unsolved rape and murder cases could potentially be solved by processing DNA samples now housed at crime labs across the country, and researchers at Washington State University will play a key role in the effort.

The Debbie Smith Act, by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), creates a federal program to test and process the DNA evidence which is estimated to be between 200,000 and 500,000 samples. The job of determining the extent of the project falls to Smith Alling Lane, a prominent Tacoma legal research firm.

Currently, survey instruments for state crime labs, private crime labs, prosecutors, and local law enforcement agencies are being “pretested” with a nationwide survey scheduled in September and October. The job of analyzing all the data collected falls to researchers Travis Pratt and Michael Gaffney in the Division of Governmental Studies & Services in the Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice Program at Washington State University.

DGSS researchers have two basic roles: 1) consultation on the survey instruments and sampling frame for police agencies; and 2) data compilation and analysis, and preparation of reports on the survey findings. WSU will receive all of the data collected across the nation and prepare reports. Preliminary data should be available in January 2003 with a final report expected in July 2003.

According to DGSS Director, Nick Lovrich, his team was selected, “because of the excellence of our faculty and a growing reputation for applied research. This project represents a big step forward in our effort to enhance our growing reputation in this area.”

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