JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska law enforcement agencies failed to collect DNA samples from more than 21,000 people arrested for or convicted of certain crimes over the past 25 years, in part because of confusion caused by changes to state law, officials said.
The state Department of Public Safety identified 21,577 individuals who were required to have a DNA sample on file but did not. Of those, 1,555 are dead, the report states.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Tuesday announced plans for the state to pursue samples in the remaining cases. It’s not clear, though, how long that process might take or how many might successfully be gathered.
The state plans to begin with those convicted of a class of felonies that includes violent crimes and sex crimes, a group that is smaller than 600 people, KTOO Public Media reported.
A 1995 law first required the collection of DNA samples from people convicted of these felonies. The law has been changed eight times, expanding those covered.
Deputy Attorney General John Skidmore said the revisions have contributed to the failures.
Skidmore said there had been confusion over who should be involved in the DNA collection. And changes to the law added challenges “in terms of trying to figure out what’s supposed to be collected when,” he said.
Several state agencies are working on the issue, along with local law enforcement agencies.
Plans call for the Department of Corrections to collect DNA from those already in prison or jail, and for state probation and parole officers to collect samples from those on supervision.
Dunleavy’s office said the Department of Corrections has collected “tens of thousands” of DNA samples over the years, “primarily when a court order was in place.” But it says with the new initiative, it will collect samples “from all offenders who fall under the statutes.”
State Public Safety Commissioner Jim Cockrell also said law enforcement now collects DNA from nearly everyone arrested for the crimes covered by the law. He said his department has begun working to find people whose samples weren’t collected previously.
“Government has an obligation to follow the law,” he said. “And regardless of the many reasons that these DNA collections were missed, we are focused on making our … state a safer place to live.”
It’s a crime to refuse to provide DNA that is required under the law. The law allows for those who have samples taken to request that their DNA be removed from the system under certain circumstances, like if they’re released without being charged or found not guilty, or if their case is dismissed.
State officials also said the state is building a website intended to allow sexual assault victims to track the status of kits collected from their assaults. That announcement was praised by advocates for sexual assault survivors.
The state estimates initiatives announced Tuesday will cost $2 million. Of that, $900,000 will come from the recently passed budget. Dunleavy also plans to ask lawmakers to approve spending $1.1 million from federal pandemic recovery funding for the work.