Using DNA to get guns off the streets of Portland

Portland, Oregon police want to adapt an old technology for new uses to get guns and gang members off of their streets.
Maxine Bernstein at The Oregonian has written a great piece about the Portland police’s Gun Task Force’ pursuit of Touch DNA techniques:

Portland police routinely collect blood or saliva samples from a crime scene to get a suspect’s DNA profile.

But now, the bureau’s Gun Task Force hopes to use evolving DNA technology to determine who may have pulled the trigger or gripped a gun used in a shooting.

The bureau is seeking a five-year contract of up to $350,000 with Virginia-based Bode Technology Group Inc. to help investigators identify DNA from skin cells, sweat or oil glands left behind on weapons confiscated by police.

Sgt. Cathe Kent, supervisor of the Gun Task Force, pursued the technology because she said officers are having a hard time proving who a gun belongs to, particularly when police find it under a car seat or in a glove box in traffic stops after drive-by shootings.  

Officers now try to lift fingerprints from guns, but the textured surface make its difficult to get much that’s useful. And Oregon’s state crime lab doesn’t have the resources to routinely do DNA analysis on firearms unless the evidence is linked to a homicide or rape case, said Brian Ostrom, forensic supervisor at the state lab.

“A lot of these cases we can’t make for felon-in-possession-of-a-weapon charges. Those are the cases where Touch DNA will be real valuable to us,” Kent said. “In our eyes, these are people who are going to potentially shoot people or have shot people. We need to get these guns off the street and out of the hands, in particular, of felons.”

The technology has limitations. While it allows for DNA analysis using smaller samples, the DNA evidence is not conclusive in telling police when and how someone’s DNA got on the gun.

You can read the story in full here. The following video from Portland police shows how evidence is collected.