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Fla. department to take DNA in all arrests

Kristen Reed and Rachael Jackson
Sentinel Staff Writers

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Any day now, Daytona Beach police will begin seeking DNA samples from every person they arrest, hoping to help nab the serial killer who has slain four women here.

Chief Mike Chitwood said the launch of the new and relatively rare policy will provide his investigators -- who have recovered the killer's DNA from two victims -- with a valuable tool in their pursuit.

"They get cuffed, we're going after DNA," the chief said late Wednesday. Last year, Daytona Beach police arrested 11,000 people. "DNA is going to replace fingerprints soon. Whether we're doing it now for the serial-killer investigation or whatever . . . DNA is going to be useful as a tool."

Chitwood is asking all law-enforcement agencies in Volusia County to do the same. At least one, the Port Orange Police Department, confirmed Wednesday that it would be helping.

The chief said the DNA that is collected -- from any type of arrest and within the parameters of the law -- will be sent to the state's database. He hopes the effort, in the long term, will help area law-enforcement agencies solve a number of crimes.

Typically in Florida, DNA is collected after a person is convicted of a felony. Short of that, the law requires people to surrender a DNA sample voluntarily, even if they have been arrested or convicted of a misdemeanor.

It's not common to collect DNA from people who are arrested but not convicted, said Doug Ward, director of the Division of Public Safety Leadership at Johns Hopkins University.

'Great investigative tool'

And he said large-scale DNA collection is often controversial.

"From a police standpoint, it's a great investigative tool," he said. "From a civil-liberties standpoint, there's a line . . . where we start giving up our freedoms."

Chitwood conceded that people could refuse to give a DNA sample. But if someone does, and police think there's a connection to the case, they could pursue other legal means to retrieve the DNA as part of their investigation.

He added that a handful of Florida cities already collect DNA from arrestees, and the New York City Police Department is considering the move.

Miami-Dade Police stepped up its DNA-collection efforts several years ago by taking samples, with consent, from people arrested for particular crimes.

The policy led police to clear cases and "many arrests," spokesman Roy Rutland said. But samples are not taken from everyone who is arrested.

"That would be a monumental task," Rutland said. "We'd have every officer on the street with a swab kit."

The American Civil Liberties Union has opposed widespread DNA collection in the past, said Alexandra Bassil, assistant director of communications for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. But she would not comment on the Daytona Beach case, because she did not know the specifics.

But a California lab director said a "DNA dragnet," such as the one Daytona Beach is proposing, can only help its investigation.

"You can't argue with that being a good idea," said Mehul Anjaria, director of Human Identification Technologies in Redlands. "No question, the more samples we have, the better."

He said many states are building up their crime DNA databases. Florida's database, which now includes 436,000 samples, began in 1990 with submissions from only sexual-battery cases, said spokeswoman Kristen Perezluha.

The state has since expanded the types of offenses that require a DNA submission; since July, Florida has required it in all felony convictions.

Chitwood said that, in addition to people his officers arrest, they will seek DNA from anyone who becomes a "person of interest" in the serial-killer investigation. But he adamantly squashed rumors Wednesday that his officers were swabbing every person stopped for a traffic infraction.

"We are not setting up a traffic roadblock or swabbing people we stop for traffic violations," he said.

4 possible victims of killer

Investigators think four women have been killed by the same man since December 2005. Laquetta Mae Gunther was found first, and Julie Ann Green and Iwana Patton were killed at the start of 2006.

The latest victim, Stacey Gage, was discovered Jan. 2, although police believe she was killed weeks earlier.

Profilers theorize that the suspect is a regular-seeming guy with relationship troubles. Chitwood said his officers think the killer lives in the area and has probably come into contact with police.

Copyright 2008 The South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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