Creepy Cops Want Your DNA For Whatever
September 19, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Does it seem creepy and dystopian that your kid needs parental consent to go on a school field trip or participate in sports, but that a cop could walk up to them and take a DNA sample from them without your consent or you even knowing about it?
Cops in a growing number of states don’t think so.
As Pro Publica reported last week, cops in Florida, California, Connecticut and North Carolina are aggressively collecting DNA sample from anyone and everyone; kids too. Even people not arrested or suspected of any wrongdoing. Many of these samples are held in private data bases where the standards for collection and storage are unknown.
In a blatant display of incompetence, West Melbourne, Florida police even admit to collecting what they call “abandoned DNA” from discarded chewing gum or cigarette butts. How one could trust a sample taken in this manner is beyond logic, the chances of a combined or contaminated sample being very high.
The FBI has CODIS, a DNA database for storing profiles of convicted criminals and persons arrested for certain crimes. There is an accreditation process for contributing labs so as to standardize the collection and storage of samples. Adding more independent labs without significant oversight and standardized competency examinations for technicians will create a nightmare for defendants and victims alike.
State and local labs all over the country have been in a continual state of scandal over botched testing, contamination of samples and plain incompetence. These types of labs have long been under fire due to the pro-prosecution culture wherein the lab technicians are under pressure to find results prosecutors can use to obtain convictions. If your lab has problems keeping track of simple blood samples or your techs can’t pass the test required for accreditation then it doesn’t bode well for your ability to handle the complexities of DNA testing.
One issue that has been ignored as much as possible by prosecutors is called “Touch DNA.” This is where brief contact such as a handshake with, say, a perpetrator of a crime has transferred the innocent persons DNA to the crime scene. If you were accused of a crime based on such a transfer of DNA, your only hope would be that you were many miles away or incapacitated at the hospital at the time of the crime, and that a significant number of people were with you and willing to testify.
One of the most infamous DNA fiascos is known as The Mystery of the Phantom of Heilbronn. One DNA profile was linked to dozens of crimes going back to 1993, including the murder of a German policewoman. Finally in 2009, it became apparent that the DNA likely came from a woman who worked at the plant where the DNA testing swabs were manufactured.
Since just a trace of DNA can become the basis for a case against someone more than ever we need to have proper oversight of DNA testing labs, scientists and techs who are tasked with decoding this evidence. Early DNA testing pioneer Peter Gill, who has been outspoken against privatization of forensics labs once stated:
If you show 10 colleagues a mixture, you will probably end up with 10 different answers. (As to whom the contributor is.)
Scary as that is, in many parts of the country that is exactly the case.
We also need to bear in mind that there are plenty of police officers who have no problem with planting false evidence. They do it for many reasons: In high profile crimes where there is a lot of pressure to make an arrest, maybe a romantic rival or a custody battle is enough. It might even happen because the cop doesn’t like “mouthy drivers” or “street lawyers.” If we are allowing cops to hit the streets with collection swabs what’s to stop them from amassing their own private collection of DNA samples consisting of people they don’t like?
All one would have to do is swab their original sample with a second swab. Then submit one to the lab with the consent form and the other could be kept at home in the cop’s personal “mouthy driver” database. One day this cop visits a crime scene and “a little dab’ll do ya” he pulls his little plastic tube from a pocket and now an innocent person’s DNA can be collected from where he never was.
How about it? Do you think that would never happen? Would you bet your life on it?
Lab problems will just the tip of the iceberg if we allow the street cop to collect DNA samples. It should only be done under very rigidly controlled protocols by highly trained individuals.
In the meantime don’t drop your gum.