Rapid DNA technology: Revolutionizing investigations and identifications
Rapid DNA technology brings major benefits in investigations by significantly saving time and money
By Joshua Lee
Imagine arresting a suspect possessing stolen goods, collecting their DNA, and before the booking process is complete being immediately alerted that the offender’s DNA is linked to an unsolved 2020 officer shooting. This timely notification kept East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office from unknowingly releasing the suspect to commit more crimes and enabled investigators to follow up and book the offender on ALL offenses committed, not just the one they were originally arrested for.
Fishers Police Department officers respond to an emergency call, entering the building they find multiple bodies. Murder, suicide, or both? In a matter of hours, the RapidHIT ID DNA System allowed Fishers Police Department (Indiana), working in collaboration with the Hamilton County Coroner, to identify the deceased. After implementing this program late last year, Fishers PD has made dozens more rapid identifications. “Making a positive identification quickly is instrumental when dealing with a death investigation," Sergeant Jim Hawkins said, "and it provides much-needed answers to families and the community.”
"We need to continue to implement innovative things that keep us ahead of crime and to be proactive, not reactive," explains Chief Ed Gebhart, Fishers Police Department. "Rapid DNA puts us in a unique place that helps us bring resolve fast and confidently." And getting those answers and resolutions not only saves time, it also saves money. A recent study determined that the RapidHIT ID DNA System is up to $419 less expensive per sample compared to conventional DNA testing. 
The RapidHIT ID system is based on the same trusted DNA methods used to support investigations for decades, but the technology is now condensed into a simple operation sample to answer solution positioned for law enforcement personnel. Miniaturized, faster and now portable rapid DNA enables investigators to conduct on-site DNA testing, generating objective, timely actionable leads that help direct investigations at their earliest stages, saving valuable time and resources.
As rapid DNA is a new concept for many, I want to discuss what Rapid DNA testing is, the value of Rapid DNA technology for law enforcement and for its citizens, and how Rapid DNA can aid the justice system as a whole.
What is Rapid DNA technology?
Rapid DNA, or Rapid DNA analysis, is a term used to describe the fully automated process of developing a DNA profile from a sample in 1-2 hours. 
Traditionally, DNA analysis takes place in a laboratory setting, but with Rapid DNA technology, the entire analysis takes place within a machine and computer.
Rapid DNA analysis begins with the collection of a sample from a crime scene or a known individual, such as saliva, blood, or tissue. The sample is then inserted into a cartridge, which is placed into the Rapid DNA instrument. The device performs a series of automated steps, including DNA extraction, amplification, separation, and detection to generate a DNA profile. The DNA profile can then be compared to DNA databases containing DNA profiles from unsolved crimes, arrested or convicted individuals, missing and unidentified human remains, or family members to identify suspects, link and solve crimes, and identify the unknown.
How does Rapid DNA technology benefit criminal investigations?
One of the most significant advantages of Rapid DNA technology is the time it saves during investigations. Traditional DNA analysis methods can take weeks, or months to complete - in some instances, such as non-violent, property crimes, sample testing may not be performed at all. However, with Rapid DNA, law enforcement can generate profiles within a few hours, at the onset of an investigation and while an arrestee is still in custody.
When an arrestee's DNA is processed with a RapidHIT ID DNA Booking System, the arrestee's DNA is enrolled and searched against the national database before the booking and charging process is complete. The booking and investigating agency are immediately notified via NLETS, if the arrestee DNA’s profile hits to DNA from an unsolved case in the state or national DNA database. With this new lead, if probable cause exists on another crime, the likelihood the suspect is held until additional charges are filed is increased and additional crimes are prevented.
Rapid DNA provides objective evidence that helps expedite the elimination of the innocent and the development of valid suspects early in the investigation. I have talked with many suspected criminals, and waiting for results to clear the individual’s name can have a lasting impact mentally, physically and financially.
Another advantage Rapid DNA instruments offer is portability, allowing investigators to test samples at the crime scene, police stations, or in jails. This point of collection testing capability can streamline the investigative process and reduce delays related to evidence submission, triage and testing in traditional laboratory settings.
The impact of Rapid DNA on the justice system
By offering information at the beginning of an investigation, this technology aids in effectively solving crimes and provides added benefits to the criminal justice system overall. Studies have shown time and time again that expanding DNA testing, generating faster DNA investigative leads, and ensuring all lawfully owed arrestee or convicted offender DNA are entered into DNA databases are sound investments in solving, preventing crime and deterring offenders.3 Resources allocated to timely, DNA investigative leads bring both monetary and societal savings. DNA’s ability to link multiple crimes committed by a defendant leads to faster, more accurate pleas and expedited prosecutions - a win for all criminal justice stakeholders.
Rapid DNA technology is an invaluable tool for the law enforcement community. With its simple-to-operate design, lower per-sample cost, and portability, law enforcement officers can perform DNA testing on the spot. Rapid DNA means staying a step ahead with timely, objective investigative leads, swift elimination and identification of suspects and ultimately getting much-needed answers and justice for families, victims, and the community.
1. Houck MM, Speaker PJ. (2023.) Maximize Crime-Solving with Rapid DNA: Complementary approaches to DNA processing save time and money. Speaker PJ. (2023.) Economic comparison of the relative costs and efficiency of using Thermo Fisher Scientific RapidHIT™ ID System versus traditional DNA laboratory analysis. Project FORESIGHT Working Paper.
2. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Standards for Operation of Rapid DNA Booking Systems by Law Enforcement Booking Agencies. Accessed May 16, 2023.
3. Anker AS, Doleac JL, Landersø R. (2021.) The Effects of DNA Databases on the Deterrence and Detection of Offenders. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 13(4):194-225.
About the author
Joshua Lee is an active-duty police sergeant for the City of Mesa (Arizona) Police Department. Before promoting, Joshua served five years as a patrol officer and six years as a detective with the Organized Crime Section investigating civil asset forfeiture, white-collar financial crime, and cryptocurrency crimes.