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Criminal Justice Update

Ohio BCI: Celebrating a Century of Service


Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation This year, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation celebrates its centennial, confident that its future will be just as momentous. New initiatives are already paving the way.

One hundred years ago, the Ohio General Assembly passed a law creating a minor criminal records agency that, in its early years, was housed at the Ohio Penitentiary and staffed largely by prisoners.

From those humble roots, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation transformed into the powerhouse that it is today, staffed by expert investigators, forensic scientists and record-keepers more accustomed to novel technologies than prison bars.

Attorney General Dave Yost speaks at a celebration of BCI's 100th anniversary.

Attorney General Dave Yost speaks at a celebration of BCI's 100th anniversary.

Attorney General Dave Yost and his office celebrated the centennial and the workers who drive BCI with ceremonies and picnics at the locations in London, Bowling Green and Richfield. The events honored the past but also looked forward, highlighting new initiatives that will make BCI even more valuable to local law enforcement partners and Ohio as a whole.

“As I congratulate BCI on its first century, I’m excited by the prospects for its next 100 years,” the attorney general said. “What additional feats of extraordinary justice will be performed as expertise and equipment advance?”

Many seeds for that growth have already been planted, BCI Superintendent Joseph Morbitzer said.

“We don’t just focus on getting better at one thing at a time; we work together to improve everything at once,” he said. “And each improvement we make helps us help more people, fight more deadly doses of fentanyl, solve more sexual assaults, and analyze more firearms and DNA.”

DNA testing advancements and specialized investigative efforts such as the new Cold Case Unit tend to draw the most attention, but work just as integral to solving cases and preventing crime happens in every corner of BCI.

A fingerprint analyst works at BCI.

A fingerprint analyst works at BCI.

For example, the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (OHLEG), the web platform that provides law enforcement officers quick access to vital tools, has undergone a significant upgrade.

“This project might not make headlines, but it offers profound advantages that help law enforcement agencies work smarter,” Attorney General Yost said. “We want to provide efficiencies that allow officers to focus more on investigating cases and helping communities — not duplicating paperwork.”

Since OHLEG’s new records management system, SWIFT RMS, came online, 25 law enforcement agencies, including the Hamilton County Sheriff ’s Office, have recognized its advantages over their old systems and made the switch.

SWIFT RMS offers complete case management, simplified incident reporting, auto crash reporting with a direct link to the Department of Public Safety, jail booking, property room management, regional sharing, a module to handle newly required use-of-force reporting and a “night mode” with darker screen settings. Agencies do not have to pay for the digital storage space they use.

“It’s going to astound agencies what we have available for them,” OHLEG Director Jill Small said.

In addition to the RMS, OHLEG has a new search engine, called SWIFT SE, that offers improved results when searching by name, vehicle description, address, tattoo or other image. It allows users to more easily filter, sort and cross-reference search results.

Also on OHLEG, the new SWIFT Share upgrades the Ohio Local Law Enforcement Information Sharing Network (OLLEISN) and assists agencies in sharing incident reports regardless of vendor platform.

“I thought, being in law enforcement for four decades, that I knew what BCI was all about,” said Morbitzer, who served as chief of the Westerville Police Department, near Columbus, before joining the bureau. “But I had no clue. Things like the Public Corruption Unit, what the Lab does with trace evidence and firearms, the Identification Division.”

The Identification Division, among its many duties, performs 1.6 million background checks a year, and it is responsible for adding sex offenders, arsonists and other criminals to state registries.

Beth Owens leads BCI's Identification Division.

Beth Owens leads BCI's Identification Division.

Like OHLEG, the Identification Division has implemented important new upgrades. A $25 million replacement for the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS), the state system encompassing 6 million criminal records, was completed in June. The new system supports more rapid retrieval of data, allowing for faster identification of criminal suspects.

The division is also converting 3 million criminal records that exist only on paper into electronic files — the benefits of which are obvious.

“It goes to show how this attorney general really values law enforcement,” Small said. “That’s why he authorized these big system enhancements.”

Attorney General Yost himself has said that it is the experience and talent of the team at BCI that make such projects worthwhile.

Attorney General Yost speaks to, from left, Karen Kwek, BCI Laboratory Director; Carol O'Brien, Deputy Attorney General for Law Enforcement/Chief Counsel; and Diane Gehres, BCI Laboratory Manager/CODIS Technical Leader.

Attorney General Yost speaks to, from left, Karen Kwek, BCI Laboratory director; Carol O'Brien, deputy attorney general for law enforcement; and Diane Gehres, BCI Laboratory manager/CODIS technical leader.

“You don’t invest in shiny new systems, invent new teams and develop cutting-edge technology unless you are confident they can achieve better results,” he said, listing: “More charges filed, more criminals convicted, more records at officers’ fingertips to protect their lives when they pull over hotheaded motorists.

“In that sense, BCI is one of the safest investments we can make,” Yost continued, “and I have confidence that will be true for at least another century.”

BCI Initiatives


BCI is focusing on priority investigations that pull expertise from across the bureau’s divisions. The point is to better help local agencies get the answers they and their communities need.

  • Cold Case Unit: This new team focuses on helping local law enforcement take a fresh look at unsolved homicides and sexual assaults — a collaborative effort among BCI investigators, criminal analysts and forensic scientists.
  • Officer-Involved Critical Response Team: Although not a new effort, this team is fielding more work as its reputation for trusted, independent investigations draws interest from local law enforcement agencies. More have signed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) for BCI to investigate their critical incidents.
  • Special Victims Unit: This new unit has brought smaller, specialized units under its umbrella to more efficiently seek justice for victims of vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, those with special needs and those trapped in human trafficking.

DNA testing

Modern DNA testing has opened doors to solving mysteries that even a decade or two ago would have gone unanswered, and BCI’s Laboratory Division continues to deploy new technologies:

  • Familial DNA testing: This combs CODIS, a national DNA database, for near-matches to crime-scene DNA in need of being identified. If a Y chromosome match is found, it is highly likely that the culprit is a male relative of the person whose DNA is in CODIS.
  • Massively parallel sequencing (MPS): This enables millions of fragments of DNA from a single sample to be sequenced in unison instead of one at a time. More sensitive than traditional testing, it allows for more detailed information to be generated from DNA.
  • Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing: Compared with familial testing, this examines DNA passed only through the matrilineal line. Mitochondrial DNA is more robust and plentiful than the type of DNA targeted in traditional testing, making it helpful in unidentified remains cases.
  • Genetic genealogy: This can solve cold cases in which CODIS or familial DNA work hasn’t found answers. The Laboratory assists local agencies in preparing crime scene DNA extracts to be outsourced for a process similar to that used by individuals researching their family heritage.

Drug research

Identification of drugs is an essential component of criminal investigations and prosecutions. Two initiatives address pressing issues:

  • BCI’s Chemistry Unit is taking part in a multistate alert system to ID new synthetic opioids — chemical variations and combinations of illicit substances that function as new drugs. BCI examines these drugs and provides reference data so that labs across the country can quickly detect the new drugs if they show up.
  • BCI has been investing in MX908s, portable drug-analysis devices that seek out the chemical fingerprint of well-known drugs, such as fentanyl and carfentanil. They’ve proved promising: Faster test results in the field enable more efficient investigations and prosecutions and help protect officers.