A Review of DNA Lab Requests from Municipal Departments and RCMP Detachments in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia (2006-2011)

Key Findings:

  • Inclusive of all years under review (2006 – 2011), and including all authorized lab submissions, 24% of files resulted in a COI offender hit from a crime scene sample.
  • Considering the current sample where DNA result information was available (n = 195), between 2006 – 2011, 27% of files resulted in a COI offender hit from a crime scene sample.
  • The general time that it took for lab results to be provided to an investigator was between 116 and 126 days.
  • Slightly more than one-third of files indicated that DNA helped to lay charges against an offender.
  • In 91% of the cases where a Report to Crown Counsel was made, the charges were approved.
  • In one-third of files, DNA analysis resulted in an application for a DNA warrant
  • In one-fifth of files where court outcome information was present, two-thirds resulted in the offender being found guilty, 13% the offender plead guilty, and in 8% of files the offender plead guilty to a lesser or included offense. In less than 2% of files, the offender was found not-guilty, and in only 14% the charges were stayed.
  • Results from investigator interviews reveal that DNA evidence is viewed as nearly always useful in an investigation in some form or another, and further, the NDDB is not only a great current criminal justice asset, it is also an important investment into the future.

1. Background

Over the past decade, the National DNA Data Bank (NDDB) in Canada has seen tremendous success. Its role has proven to be critical in many investigations resulting in convictions and offering some degree of closure to many families and victims. The use of DNA evidence in an investigation is considered to be a critical tool for investigators as it can provide unbiased information in the identification of a suspect, the development of a DNA profile, or eliminating a suspect. Moreover, DNA evidence can provide the justification to further an investigation in a particular direction and can provide scientific evidence of identity that solidly supports our criminal justice system's criminal burden of proof. Importantly, DNA evidence and the NDDB are not only viewed as an important asset in criminal investigations, but are a continuous investment into the future capability and capacity of our criminal justice system to respond to crime.

The purpose of this report is to describe the results from a review of DNA lab requests from police agencies within the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Another purpose is to report on the results of investigator interviews conducted as part of the review. A primary focus of those interviews was to capture investigators' concerns and views regarding the overall usefulness of the NDDB .

The review of lab requests was focused on the nature of the police request, the nature of the lab results, and the effect of successful DNA "hits" on police investigations and charge approval. The request for the report, which came from the Department of Justice, has its roots in recommendations from the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, and the National DNA Data Bank (NDDB) Advisory Committee, to collect statistics to better understand the National DNA Data Bank of Canada's assistance in police investigations and NDDB effectiveness. The review was designed in consultation with the Research and Statistics Division of the Department of Justice Canada.

2. Methodology

There were two parts to the methodology associated with this review. The first part consisted of a review of Lower Mainland District (LMD) police files. In total, eight police agencies participated in the review. Two of these participating agencies were municipal police departments and six were RCMP detachments. These detachments and departments collectively represent most of the policing jurisdictions for the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Specifically, the participating police departments and detachments were:

  1.  Vancouver PD
  2. Abbotsford PD
  3. Surrey RCMP
  4. Richmond RCMP
  5. Ridge Meadows RCMP
  6. Burnaby RCMP
  7. White Rock RCMP
  8. Upper Fraser Valley Regional RCMP

For those participating police agencies, researchers requested the relevant DNA file information from the RCMP National Forensic Services Laboratory in Vancouver, British Columbia. Specifically, this data request included a list of all of the authorized biology case submissions received by the lab from the listed LMB detachments. Associated to the biology case submissions were the lab file numbers, name of the agencies, agency file numbers, and relevant criminal code sections associated to the offence(s) between 2006 and 2011. Also requested were the lists of all of the crime scene index (CSI) hit files obtained both nationally and locally between 2006 and 2011, as well as the convicted offender index (COI) hit files that were obtained during the same time period.

Each participating agency was provided a combined list of COI and CSI hit file numbers to "pull" for this review. The list provided to each agency was created by selecting every third DNA match file beginning in 2006 and ending in 2011 from each master agency list. This method resulted in 587 total DNA match or "hit" files being reviewed for this report. Researchers visited each agency to review the files, and the information in the files was coded using a coding manual designed for this project (see Appendix A). There was a wide range of offence types represented in the files and, in those cases where there were multiple charges, only the most serious offence (MSO) as indicated in the file was coded. Once all of the relevant data was coded, each manual was entered into a Statistical Package for the Social Science (SPSS) database for analysis. The analyses focused on the nature of the offence and the source of the DNA collected, the amount of time it took the DNA lab to analyze the sample, the outcome of the analysis, and the role that the DNA evidence played in the investigation and prosecution of the offence.Footnote 1

In addition to the file review, qualitative telephone interviews with at least one police investigator from each of the eight participating police agencies was conducted (see Appendix B). These interviews focused on the investigators' experiences with DNA requests, how those experiences have changed over time, their views of the usefulness of the NDDB , any concerns they may have regarding requests and subsequent action taken on "hits", and any recommendations they had for NDDB improvement. In total, 15 investigators were interviewed for this report.

2.1 Authorized Lab Submissions

Below is the total number of authorized lab submissions from 2006 to 2011 from each of the eight participating agencies. The percentage of Offender "COI" and Forensic "CSI" hits are reflective of every case, and are not restricted to the sample used for the rest of this analysis as not all files included all of the information used for each analysis presented in this report. Importantly, an Offender "COI" hit results from a DNA profile being developed from crime scene evidence and entered into the NDDB that then matches a DNA profile in the Convicted Offenders Index. A Forensic "CSI" hit results from a DNA profile being developed from crime scene evidence and entered in the Crime Scene Index of the NDDB that then matches another crime scene DNA profile in the Crime Scene Index.

Table 1: Total number of authorized Lab submissions and percent of offender "COI" and forensic "CSI" hits from 2006 – 2011
Department/Detachment Total Authorized Requests COI Hits % CSI Hits % Total Hits %
Abbotsford PD 314 13% 16% 29%
Burnaby RCMP 785 17% 20% 38%
UFVRD RCMP 123 - 30%
Richmond RCMP 336 12% 25% 37%
Ridge Meadows RCMP 169 13% 9% 22%
Surrey RCMP 2,847 9% 7% 16%
Vancouver PD 2,630 17% 22% 39%
White Rock RCMP 40 25% 33% 58%
Total 7,244 13% 16% 29%

There were no COI hits for UFRDV provided in this sample.Footnote 2

In terms of the requests authorized for analysis, a total percentage is given for each of those requests that resulted in an Offender "COI" or a Forensic "CSI" hit from each of the participating RCMP detachments or municipal departments in the study period (see Table 1). It should be noted that the number of total authorized requests refers to biological cases, such as saliva, blood, or hair. The combined total percentage of COI and CSI hits are also provided. No agency reported higher than 24% total COI hits for the years under review. Further, the CSI hits appeared to occur more often than COI hits. In this sample, five of the eight agencies showed a slightly higher proportion of CSI hits than their reported COI hits.

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