MARTINEZ (CBS SF) – The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors authorized the county sheriff Tuesday to purchase a new machine that offers quick turnaround on DNA analysis tests to identify suspects in violent crimes or victims in mass casualty incidents like the recent Camp Fire in Butte County.

The RapidHIT ID System has been quoted at Thermo Fisher for roughly $97,500, which is 50 percent off the usual price, according to county staff. It will allow the forensic services division of the sheriff’s office to generate a DNA profile, compatible with state and national databases, in under two hours.

County officials described the technology as revolutionary.  Theoretically, it could be used to exonerate wrongly accused suspects and prevent backlogs of untested DNA samples.

According to a sales video posted at www.thermofisher.com, the system uses a simple and largely automated process in which a lab worker inserts the swab used to collect a DNA sample into a cartridge then inserts that cartridge into the machine. It does the rest on its own, creating a profile and automatically looking for matches.

One study by the Netherlands Forensic Institute found that the machine could also be mounted in a vehicle for use as part of a mobile crime lab. Some of the samples in that test were lost due to a failure in the process, but researchers said they were able to identify and remedy the causal factors in those failures.

The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the purchase.

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