By Elena Santa Cruz

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is expected to get new pieces of DNA technology to avoid long wait times from the state's crime lab and to get quicker hits on crime suspects.

With the new machines, the Sheriff's Office can process some DNA evidence in hours, rather than waiting weeks for the state crime lab to report results.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors last month approved spending $600,000 in federal grant funds to purchase two new DNA identification machines called RapidHIT.

"These RapidHIT DNA instruments are an excellent tool for reducing the processing time for single-source DNA samples," said MCSO spokesperson Calbert Gillett in an email. Gillett added that the instruments "could allow investigative leads to be identified or eliminated on the same day as a crime occurs."

Gillett said the machines would only be used for single-source DNA samples. These can include a blood drop, a cigarette butt, a semen sample, saliva, or any other piece of evidence that was believed to have come from or been used by one individual, according to Gillett.

Cases where multiple DNA samples are present, like sexual assault kits, would still be sent over to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

The funds were announced to have been granted to the Sheriff's Office after U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton included them in a House appropriation bill last year. Stanton said at a July 2022 news conference that MCSO identified the need for these machines when he reached out to see how he could support the agency.

Currently, the Sheriff's Office has one machine like this, which could be difficult from time to time, according to Gillett.

"When that instrument goes down or is being serviced, we don't have a backup."

With the purchase of two more machines, Gillett said, it would ensure that the Sheriff's Office always has one available to run any samples for possible identification in a short time frame. It would also permit them to run up to three samples at a time — one in each machine.

When Stanton announced the investment, he said that law enforcement agencies have typically gone to the Arizona Department of Public Safety for help on lab analysis. However, local agencies increasingly started to go to MCSO.

This is because it can take weeks or months for results to come back from the state crime lab, mainly because of backlogs and cases labeled as having a higher priority.

"Rather than spending hours, days, or months looking for DNA analysis to be completed by a state laboratory, we are allowed to use this very quick technology," said MCSO senior crime lab analyst Kelly Donaldson at the announcement. "This is a game-changer for MCSO, which does not have a full-scale DNA lab."