Arrests are being made 'to expand DNA files'
Police are routinely arresting people simply to record their DNA profiles on the [UK] national database...
Three quarters of young black men are on the database. The finding risks stigmatising a whole section of society, the equality watchdog has warned.
The revelations will fuel the debate about the DNA database, the world’s largest. They are included in a report by the Human Genetics Commission, an independent government advisory body. It criticises the piecemeal development of the database and questions how effective it is in helping the police to investigate and solve crimes.
Jonathan Montgomery, commission chairman, said that “function creep” over the years had transformed a database of offenders into one of suspects. Almost one million innocent people are now on the DNA database.
Professor Montgomery said: “It’s now become pretty much routine to take DNA samples on arrest, so large numbers of people on the DNA database will be there not because they have been convicted, but because they’ve been arrested.”
Recorded crime has fallen every year since 2004-05, but the number of people arrested in England and Wales annually is rising. Latest figures show that arrests rose by 6 per cent to 1.43 million in 2005 and a further 4 per cent to 1.48 million in 2006-07.
Professor Montgomery said there was some evidence that people were arrested to retain the DNA information even though they might not have been arrested in other circumstance.
He said that a retired senior police officer told the commission: “It is now the norm to arrest offenders for everything if there is a power to do so. It is apparently understood by serving police officers that one of the reasons... is so that DNA can be obtained.” He said that the tradition of only arresting someone when dealing with serious offences had collapsed.
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission said the proportion of black men on the database created an impression that one race group represented an “alien wedge” of criminality.
The report’s foreword states that the DNA profiles of 75 per cent of black men aged 18 to 35 are recorded. But the commission admitted that it had “hardened up slightly” earlier estimates quoted in Parliament.
The Crime and Security Bill heralded in last [November’s] Queen’s Speech proposes cutting to six years the time that innocent people’s profiles are kept. Those arrested but not charged, or those cleared in court, currently remain on the database for ever. There are no plans to reduce police powers to take samples from everyone arrested.
Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, has said that innocent people should not have their DNA retained by the police once they are acquitted of a crime.
The commission report said that the database should be placed on a clear statutory basis and overseen by an independent authority. Isabella Sankey, of Liberty, said: “Not only are we stockpiling the most sensitive information of innocents who have never been charged, let alone convicted, we are also creating a perverse incentive to arrest people solely to get their details on the database.”
The Home Office suggested that the over-representation of young black men on the database was linked to disproportionality in other areas of the criminal justice system.
President Obama backs DNA test in arrestsPresident Barack Obama’s embrace of a national database to store the DNA of people arrested but not necessarily convicted of a crime is heartening to backers of the policy but disappointing to criminal justice reformers, who view it as an invasion of privacy.
Others also worry the practice would adversely affect minorities.
In an interview aired Saturday on “America’s Most Wanted,” Obama expressed strong agreement as host John Walsh extolled the virtues of collecting DNA at the time of an arrest and putting it into a single, national database.
“We have 18 states who are taking DNA upon arrest,” Walsh said. “It’s no different than fingerprinting or a booking photo. ... Since those states have been doing it, it has cleared 200 people that are innocent from jail.”
“It’s the right thing to do,” Obama replied. “This is where the national registry becomes so important, because what you have is individual states — they may have a database, but if they’re not sharing it with the state next door, you’ve got a guy from Illinois driving over into Indiana, and they’re not talking to each other.”
Erin Runnion, whose 5-year-old daughter Samantha was murdered in 2002, was delighted at Obama’s remarks. “I am thrilled that the president seems to be supportive of DNA upon felony arrest. I think we’ll prevent future crimes across this country by doing it,” she said. “I’m absolutely 100 percent in favour of it.”
Some opponents of the idea, though, were taken aback.
“I’m actually surprised he would give an answer like that,” said Deborah Peterson Small of Break the Chains, which studies the impact of drug laws on minority groups. “I’d think he and people around him would know that collecting DNA samples from arrestees is more controversial than collecting it from people who’ve been convicted.”
“It’s a horrible idea — tremendously invasive,” said Bill Quigley of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who also disputed Walsh’s claim that DNA is no different from fingerprints.
“It’s like a hair sample, looking at your health care records and everything else,” Quigley said. “It’s like giving a blank check to the government — a blank check they can cash anytime they feel like it.”
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