A day after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for police to take DNA swabs from anyone they arrest for serious crimes, officials in Chicago said they would start collecting thousands of swabs at one of the nation's largest jails from murder suspects and those charged with home invasion and various sexual offenses.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said Tuesday that swabs would be taken on July 1 from jail inmates who have been indicted on those crimes and submitted to the state police's crime lab.
Dart said a state law passed last year already gave the sheriff's department the authority to collect the swabs, but that he held off until the Supreme Court issued its ruling, which he and others in law enforcement knew was coming. He said he mainly waited because he was concerned that collecting swabs ahead of the court decision might put cases in jeopardy if the ruling came down differently.
Under the Illinois law, Dart said law enforcement must wait until a person is indicted to collect a swab. But the high court's decision, which backed a Maryland law allowing DNA swabbing at the time of arrest, has him considering going to Springfield this fall to press lawmakers to modify the state law to allow swabs to be taken as soon as suspects are booked into jail.
He said those arrested on crimes such as criminal sexual assault always tend to be indicted regardless, and taking swabs immediately might prevent suspects from being released on bond before authorities learn the DNA samples link them to other crimes.
"That two- or three-week window could be significant because a guy could get out on bond on that one sexual assault case and take off before we find out he's involved with six other ones," the sheriff said.
Getting the DNA profiles into the state police database as quickly as possible is even more important in Cook County, where the department's outdated record-keeping system could add days or weeks between the time of an indictment and when jail personnel learn about it.
Dart also said he would like to expand the list of crimes for which swabs can be collected, but that it might be a tough sell because it would mean more work for the state police crime labs.
In recent years, law enforcement agencies have been forced to wait weeks, months or even years for test results from the overburdened crime labs -- a problem that some fear would be made worse by requests for more DNA tests.
"This could create a huge problem for the state crime labs," said Greg Sullivan, executive director of the Illinois Sheriffs' Association. "The state police are doing the best they can, but they're already behind (and) it takes a long time to hire and train experts in this area."
Monique Bond, a spokeswoman for the state police, said it was unclear how the court's decision might affect the crime labs.