County jails in Oklahoma County and Woods County have sent DNA samples from new arrestees to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the result of a controversial law passed in 2016 that only just got off the ground late last year.
As many as 17 other counties are expect to soon join Oklahoma and Woods counties in the process, according to OSBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Adam Whitney.
“Our hope is to train every county and have them all be submitters,” Whitney told The Frontier.
The DNA collection was made legal in 2016 after a bill by Lee Denney, R-Cushing, was signed by Gov. Mary Fallin. However, there was no funding available for the kits, training and testing, so it wasn’t until the OSBI obtained a $740,000 federal grant last year that the DNA collection began.
In Tulsa, the jail began the process of collecting DNA from some arrestees on Jan. 1, Jail Administrator David Parker told The Frontier on Friday.
Parker said the jail averages “about 10” sample collections a day.
“We’ve had no hiccups, no issues,” he said. “We put them in an envelope and send them to the (Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation) and we’re done with them.”
The Tulsa jail received about 600 DNA kits last month thanks to an OSBI grant. The kits, which essentially consist of gloves (for the detention officer,) a cheek swab (for the inmate) and a packet to send back to the OSBI, are intended for use on those who come to the jail on arrests for alleged felony crimes, as well as some misdemeanors.
While the OSBI is providing agencies with kits and training, continual testing and purchasing of new kits will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
OSBI DNA Analyst Rhonda Williams, who taught a brief DNA collection course to some Tulsa Jail employees in December, said collection is relatively simple. The jailer will collect the DNA via a cheek swab, then place the collected saliva on a designated piece of paper. It is then placed in an envelope with a card identifying whose sample was collected, where the same was collected, and who collected the sample.
It’s then mailed to the OSBI, which adds the sample to its CODIS database to cross reference it against DNA collected from other crime scenes. The next step would be to upload genetic profiles of the inmates to an FBI database, in theory allowing authorities to connect recent arrestees to other unsolved crimes.
While proponents have said the process should clear up some unsolved crimes, critics have argued that collecting DNA from people merely accused of a crime constitutes a civil rights violation. Nevertheless, more than half the states in the nation do some form of DNA collecting of recent arrestees and attempts to rollback the law in other states have all failed.
The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office tried in 2018 to get a similar bill (which ultimately failed) through the Legislature. It would have allowed jailers to collect DNA samples from arrestees and use a Rapid DNA analysis device to enter the DNA profile into a national database to check against other DNA profiles collected in unsolved or outstanding criminal investigations.
That bill originally sought to have DNA collected from all arrestees, even those arrested on misdemeanor allegations. When some lawmakers pushed back, the bill was amended so DNA would only be taken from felony arrestees.
That bill has been given another life, being proposed in both the state House of Representatives (by Carol Bush, R-Tulsa) and state Senate (by Wayne Shaw, R-Grove.)
Counties collecting DNA
Oklahoma County, Woods County.
Counties which have received OSBI training
Oklahoma County, Logan County, Garfield County, McClain County, Tulsa County, Cleveland County, Cotton County, Noble County, Kay County, Woods County, Woodward County.
Counties where OSBI training is scheduled
Grady County, Love County, Carter County, Murray County, Garvin County, Jefferson County, Stevens County, McCurtain County.