Report: Police Are Collecting DNA From Innocent People

| by Michael Allen
Cheek SwabCheek Swab

More and more police are taking DNA samples from innocent people around the country, according to a new report.

ProPublica notes police are collecting DNA via cheek swabs from people not charged with or suspected of crimes in Florida, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Some cities, such as Melbourne, Florida, work with a private lab to assemble their own genetic databases for future use in solving crimes.

Some folks are asked to give DNA samples during routine traffic stops or even chance stops with police; riding a bike without functioning lights may lead to a DNA cheek swab, even for those under 18 years of age.

When adults or children are asked to give a DNA sample by someone with a gun and badge, they may think that they have no choice but to do so, which is not true.

Cmdr. Heath Sanders of the Melbourne Police Department told ProPublica: "In Florida law, basically, if we can ask consent, and if they give it, we can obtain it. We’re not going to be walking down the street and asking a five-year-old to stick out his tongue. That’s just not reasonable. But’s let’s say a kid’s 15, 16 years old, we can ask for consent without the parents."

Frederick Harran, the Director of Public Safety in Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania, added: "This has probably been the greatest innovation in local law enforcement since the bulletproof vest. It stops crime in its tracks ... So why everyone’s not doing it, I don’t know."

One reason might be the Fourth Amendment, which requires police to have reasonable suspicion that an individual has something to do with a crime before requiring a search or seizure, but the cops can still ask.

In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Maryland law that allows the police to collect DNA samples when charging people who are suspected of violent crimes, noted The Hill.

Jason Kreag, a University of Arizona law professor, told ProPublica that police encounters which lead to collecting one's DNA could potentially create "a coercive environment," and added: "The laws and the legislatures just haven’t caught up with this type of policing yet."

"There’s no laws, there’s nothing," Harran added. "We’re in uncharted territory. There’s nothing governing what we’re doing."

However, Harran isn't looking for new laws, but rather wants private genetic database programs to create their own self-governing rules.

The FBI is under strict rules when it comes gathering DNA for its federal database, but federal laws do not govern police departments and their private databases of DNA.

Michael Garvey, head of the Philadelphia Police Department’s office of forensic science, said: "No one knows what the rules are about what they’re going to upload into these private DNA databases or not. Mixtures, partials -- what’s their criteria? It varies."

Sources: ProPublica, The Hill / Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Starkey/Navy

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