Idaho Falls Police get ahead of the curve with new DNA-testing device
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IDAHO FALLS — Idaho Falls Police Department is the first law enforcement agency in Idaho to use and invest in a new forensics testing device that increases investigators’ ability to gather DNA evidence.
Jared Bradley, the chief executive officer with M-Vac systems, was in Idaho Falls on Tuesday morning to present and demonstrate the machine’s vacuum-like capabilities to IFPD and the community.
Bradley tells EastIdahoNews.com the M-Vac System is up to 200 times more effective at DNA extraction than a swab test.
“Anytime the swab doesn’t provide a strong enough profile, the case is a good candidate to go over the same evidence with the M-Vac,” says Bradley. “If there are minute amounts of DNA there, the M-Vac will get it where the swabbing won’t.”
DNA evidence includes hair follicles, bodily fluids, blood, saliva and skin cells.
The M-Vac system, Bradley says, can create a DNA profile from a sample no bigger than the size of the point of a pin.
“Some would think you should be able to get that amount (of DNA) from any method, but clearly that’s not the case. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so many unsolved cases,” Bradley says.
The M-Vac is a medical-grade carpet cleaner that vacuums DNA evidence and collects it in a container. The surface has to be sprayed with a sterile solution before it can be vacuumed.
The M-Vac system was invented by Dr. Bruce Bradley, Jared’s father, who created the device in response to the 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak on the West Coast, which infected 732 people. Somewhere along the way, Bruce realized the device could also be helpful in forensics.
Bruce died in 2009, but the M-Vac was used in forensics testing that same year. Three years later, M-Vac was marketed exclusively for use in crime scene investigations.
Jared Bradley first approached IFPD about the M-Vac several years ago. Detective Steve Avery says they’ve been using the system for the last year or so on a few ongoing cases.
“Our use of it has been fairly limited. But I’ve seen the case studies and research that’s been done with other agencies, and with that I can say with confidence that it is effective,” Avery says.
The department first heard about the M-Vac several years ago, when doubts about Christopher Tapp’s role in the 1996 murder and rape of Angie Dodge were increasing. Carol Dodge, Angie’s mother and an outspoken advocate of Tapp’s innocence, persuaded police to send a sample of Angie’s clothing to West Jordan, Utah, to be tested for skin cell evidence with M-Vac. West Jordan Police Department was one of the few places to have the machine at the time. When the West Jordan Police Department did the extraction and sent it to the lab to be tested, Christopher Tapp’s DNA was not there, Dodge says.
“The skin cells belonged to the semen donor,” she says. “People don’t realize what a blessing this machine is to IFPD.”
“We have this tool at our disposal, so we don’t have to send things out of state to be tested,” Avery says. “This keeps the chain of custody at a minimum, which lessens the risk of evidence contamination.”
Though the M-Vac comes with an initial price tag of $35,000, Avery says its use by the department will eliminate the long-term expense of sending items out of state to be tested. The M-Vac system was recently added as a line item in the city budget.
“Being the first agency in an area to get a new piece of equipment puts them on the cutting edge,” Bradley says. “I think people should be really excited about this. NYPD doesn’t have an M-Vac yet, but Idaho Falls does. The FBI is testing it, but they aren’t up and running yet, so Idaho Falls is ahead of the FBI.”