Using DNA to Solve Property Crimes

The popularity of television shows such as "CSI" has increased the public's awareness of DNA as a crime-solving tool. Currently, most police departments in the United States—as a matter of policy and practice—collect DNA evidence only in violent crimes, such as homicide and sexual assault. This, in part, is based on the belief that it is too expensive to collect biological evidence (and perform DNA analysis) in high-volume crimes, such as property crime.

The facts that form the foundation of this belief, however, are changing. The cost of performing DNA analysis is decreasing. The amount of data in state and national DNA databases is increasing, and many DNA databases are now including the DNA profiles of all convicted (violent and nonviolent) felons. Based on information in these databases—and other research on criminal careers—researchers have found that many property offenders do not "specialize," that is, they do not limit their activities to crimes against property and may commit other offenses, including violent crimes and drug deals.

For example, a Florida study revealed that 52 percent of that state's DNA database "hits" against murder and sexual assault cases matched individuals who were originally placed in the database for burglary convictions. A hit occurs when a database search of a DNA profile from biological evidence matches a profile in the database, thus identifying a suspect.

Learn more from the NIJ Journal article "DNA Analysis for 'Minor' Crimes: A Major Benefit for Law Enforcement. "

Criminal justice experts have long known that property crime offenders have high recidivism rates; the types of crimes they perpetrate—including the level of violence used—can escalate; and property crime cases frequently go unsolved. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates the average (mean) property loss from a household burglary in 2005 was approximately $1,500. Burglars are often high-rate offenders and the total cost from their crimes may be many times this amount. Therefore, arresting burglars using DNA as part of the criminal investigation—burglars who otherwise would not be caught and brought to justice—has the potential to prevent future property and other crimes.

Date Modified: June 16, 2008