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DNA analysis aids arrests in Md.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) announced Friday that the state has arrested 267 suspected criminals after clearing a backlog of more than 24,000 unanalyzed DNA samples his administration inherited upon taking office in 2007.

The announcement, made at police headquarters in downtown Baltimore, was the latest by O'Malley designed to demonstrate progress Maryland has made since he succeeded former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who is trying to win back his job this fall.

O'Malley, who built his political career as a crime-fighting mayor of Baltimore, said the statewide arrests aided by the DNA samples included 122 burglary or robbery suspects, 16 homicide suspects and more than 100 individuals wanted for sex offenses.

"These arrests did not happen by accident," O'Malley said, attributing them instead to "the results of what happens when you actually have a government that's working."

A campaign spokesman for Ehrlich shot back that O'Malley's staged event -- held to mark a milestone of 250 arrests as of last month -- was the latest example of the Democratic incumbent "trying to take credit for Ehrlich's accomplishments."

Ehrlich press secretary Andy Barth said that Ehrlich deserved credit for funding a $24 million forensics lab, where Maryland State Police analyze samples and put them into a national database to compare against cold cases.

And Barth said that Ehrlich had inherited a "weak to non-existent" system when he took office in 2003, significantly expanding the number of DNA samples taken from convicted criminals during his final years in office.

A backlog of unanalyzed samples had grown to more than 24,000 by the time Ehrlich left office. In 2008, O'Malley announced his administration had cleared the backlog, after investing in additional equipment and personnel.

O'Malley also pushed a bill through the General Assembly last year that authorized the collection of DNA samples from people charged with certain violent crimes and burglaries. That legislation was initially resisted by a caucus of black lawmakers, who argued that the state was overreaching by taking samples before people are convicted of crimes.

O'Malley's legislation was among several expansions of DNA collections lawmakers had authorized since first requiring all convicted sex offenders to provide samples in 1994. The legislature greatly expanded the number of qualifying crimes in 1999.

In 2005, lawmakers passed a bill proposed by Ehrlich that authorized collection of samples from convicted criminals at the courthouse immediately after sentencing, rather than waiting for arrival at a correctional facility.

Earlier this week, O'Malley held an event in Greenbelt, where he pledged to double the state's investment in license-plate recognition technology that has been credited with cracking down on car thefts.

Flanked by law-enforcement officials, O'Malley said the state would spend another $2 million in grant funding on the high-tech system in the coming year. Maryland started investing in the technology in 2007.

Left unsaid at the event was that $1.8 million was diverted last fiscal year from a state Vehicle Theft Prevention Fund to help balance the state's operating budget. O'Malley aides said the diversion still left $1.6 million in the fund, which is used for a variety of initiatives to fight auto thefts.

-- John Wagner

By Washington Post Editors  |  August 6, 2010; 2:27 PM ET
Categories:  Maryland , Politics  
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