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NSWPF and AFP consider DNA tool used to catch America's 'Golden State Killer' for Australian investigations

Monday, 11 October 2021 10:01:50 AM

The DNA technology used by United States law enforcement to catch the ‘Golden State Killer’ is being considered by NSW Police Force and the Australian Federal Police for Australian case work.

A group of specialists from both agencies, along with collaborators from other Australian jurisdictions, are assessing Forensic Genetic Genealogy (FGG) as an investigative tool after recently completing a world-first graduate certificate in FGG in the United States.

FGG – also known as long-range familial DNA searching – would be used to identify suspects and missing people when no match is found on current criminal DNA databases.

The method uses a wider set of genetic markers than the current technology available to Australian law enforcement.

It would allow investigators to identify familial matches up to third and fourth cousins. Current familial searching on the National Criminal Investigation DNA Database (NCIDD) can only identify close family matches.

Coordinator of Research and Innovation at Australian Federal Police (AFP), Dr Nathan Scudder, Research Coordinator from the NSW Police Force’s Science and Research Unit, Dr Jennifer Raymond, and NSWPF Manager of Science and Technology, Alison Sears, completed the six-month Forensic Genetic Genealogy course at the University of New Haven in Connecticut in August.

The researchers and forensic counterparts from Victoria are now evaluating whether the technology should be used in Australia Ms Sears said the course had provided researchers an opportunity to learn about developments in FGG from some of the world’s leading practitioners.

“The Graduate Certificate program has given us the opportunity to apply these techniques, and to exchange ideas with some key international experts in this field” she said.

Dr Scudder said police in Australia were constantly evaluating new and innovative techniques to solve cases.

“Serious and violent offenders shouldn’t think that because they have never given a DNA sample it means they got away with their crimes,” he said.

“A family connection may lead police straight to their door.”

Dr Raymond said the specialists had come away from their course excited about the potential for FGG to be used as a tool for Australian law enforcement.

“This course has really allowed us to workshop how forensic genetic genealogy could work in Australia, and to develop a robust path forward for Australian investigators and scientists” Dr Raymond said.

The director of the course, Associate Professor Claire Glynn, said the Australian researchers in the course brought a valuable international perspective to the new discipline and highlighted the feasibility of using the tool outside of the US.

“The global use of this investigatory tool is increasing and is being adopted by several countries as its potential to solve violent crimes and bring justice to victims is realised," said Associate Professor Glynn.

“Collaboration is key to bringing the use of FGG to its full potential on a global scale. By including international students in our program, we can share perspectives and lessons learned as this industry continues to grow and evolve.”

The technique was first used in April 2018 in the highly publicised ‘Golden State Killer’ case in California. Since then, an estimated 200 cases have been resolved in the United States, from giving a name to unknown remains, to identifying suspects in cold case homicide and sexual assault investigations.

The method will be subject to legal and security reviews and would be governed by strict policy and procedures if introduced in Australia.