Police Balk At Submitting Their Own DNA to Forensic Databases

Posted by Osagie K. Obasagie on October 20th, 2011

For over two decades, local, state, and federal law enforcement have insatiably pursued the radical expansion of DNA databases. This is typically driven by two arguments. First, that having more profiles at their disposal increases the likelihood of catching perpetrators and, secondly, that DNA forensics’ technical sophistication ensures that innocent people have no reason to worry about being falsely accused. These demands and assurances by law enforcement have played a pivotal role in drastically shifting public policies. When first brought into practice in the 1980s and 90s, DNA databases typically only included individuals convicted of serious crimes such as murder and rape. Now, a number of jurisdictions are including individuals merely arrested for certain crimes.

This makes a recent article in the Chicago Tribune titled “Police Cite Privacy Concerns Over Their DNA” all the more fascinating. The irony here is so thick that I initially thought that I was reading something from The Onion. But no, this is real. In response to increasing requests for police officers to submit their DNA for inclusion in forensic databases, many are pushing back, citing violations of privacy and civil liberties. The article notes

Rank-and-file police from Connecticut to Chicago to Los Angeles have opposed what some experts say is a slowly emerging trend in the U.S. to collect officers' DNA. "From a civil liberties standpoint, there are a lot of red flags," said Connecticut Trooper Steven Rief, former president of the state police union. "It's not that the law enforcement officers are opposed to giving up their DNA," he said. "You need to have safeguards in place. Something that can tell you ... something intimate about someone needs to be treated with the utmost care."

Safeguards, indeed.

Posted in Civil Society, DNA Forensics, Osagie Obasogie's Blog Posts


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