OAKLAND COUNTY, Mich. – The Local 4 Defenders went inside the Oakland County Sheriff's Office's DNA biology lab to find out how it's used to solve crimes.
DNA analysis is a crime-fighting method police and prosecutors are depending on more frequently, as the technology has greatly improved over recent years, putting more criminals behind bars.
The DNA biology lab in Oakland County has been operating for just over a year.
"This year, we've received approximately 270 cases so far," said Dorothy Catella, the lab supervisor and technical leader. "We've seen homicides, sexual assaults, property crimes -- we've pretty much run the gamut of any type of crime that could come in.
"The technology has gone from where we needed about a quarter size of a blood stain to now if somebody, you know, touches a steering wheel, we may be able to get DNA off of it. Technology has advanced so much, and it's always interesting and exciting."
Everett Foster, 53, was convicted this month of home invasion and other crimes thanks to DNA evidence he left behind at the Pontiac apartment he targeted.
"Unfortunately for the perpetrator, he broke a window, bled on the way in, bled on items inside the home," Catella said. "We caught him shortly thereafter, but he did have blood on his hands, and we were then able to just do a match comparison of his DNA, his known DNA, back to the evidentiary samples that were left at the crime scene."
If there's a DNA match, how likely is it that police have found the right person?
"We've done matches in the ninillions, which I don't even know how big of a number that is," Catella said. "It's about 27 zeroes."
Where is the DNA stored?
"You can get DNA from any nucleated cell within your body," Catella said. "Most people think it's because of blood, that it's the red blood cells within the blood stream, and it's not. It's actually the white blood cells. You can get it from sperm cells, any sort of skin cell that is lining your body anywhere."
Part of the lab's success is due to its ability to allow scientists to run multiple cases at the same time.
"We have the ability to extract DNA from 52 samples at a time," Catella said.
That helps police solve crimes more quickly, a definite plus, since the Michigan State Police crime lab had a huge backlog.
"The MSP crime lab does a great job, but they've been under-resourced," Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said. "If we get a DNA sample and we can take a serial burglar that's hit 40 homes in Oakland County off the street, bam, that's a big reduction of crime."
"My feeling is that our No. 1 job in government is to keep everyone safe," Oakland County Commissioner Shelley Goodman Taub said.
Goodman Taub pushed for Oakland County to get its own DNA lab.
"It's important to the victims," Goodman Taub said. "It's important to the victims' families to know that there's somebody here who cares about them and is concerned about their well-being and the trauma that they're going through."
Once DNA is extracted, there's a lot of work left to be done.
"Once a report is written, that has to again be technically reviewed by a second scientist, and then the report is administratively reviewed," Catella said. "So, there are a lot of checks and balances to make sure that the data that we're releasing is good data."
The Oakland County Sheriff's Office pushed for the lab because it had a case in which it waited more than eight months before getting a hit and arresting a person. In the meantime, that man attacked two more victims, police said.