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LAS Slams City for Piecemeal Changes to Controversial DNA Collection, Storage Practices

Ahead of a City Council hearing on how the City collects and stores New Yorker’s DNA, The Legal Aid Society slammed a leaked proposal that would deliver piecemeal changes to a controversial practice that has the NYPD doubling down on its controversial collection practices, as reported by the New York Daily News.

Under the police plan, the NYPD would continue to engage its surreptitious collection initiative.  This widespread tactic involves the police taking people into interrogation rooms and tricking them into giving DNA from a drinking cup or cigarette.  Children as young as 12, and people who haven’t been convicted  — or sometimes even accused — of crimes, have been subjected to this kind of collection.

Instead, in closed-door meetings, Commissioner Dermot Shea is trying to sell a plan that would review the City’s vast collection of DNA profiles every two years.  Shea’s plan does not suggest what would happen during that review or whether anyone actually would remove profiles of children and people who have not been convicted or accused, including victims and witnesses.  The NYPD also admits that the current written form it uses in the rare instances that officers seek “consent” for DNA is misleading, and made a promise to make it “more accurate.”  But the Commissioner does not explain how the form actually would change.

The NYPD also does not suggest any changes to its current policy that rank and file officers do not have to provide DNA samples, even when they are known to have handled crime scene evidence.

DNA collection by the NYPD has led to a ballooning of the City’s DNA databank.  This databank, which is operated by the OCME, has more than 31,400 people in it, and is rapidly growing.  Between 2017 and 2019, the databank grew by almost 30 percent.   The OCME’s databank operates with no regulation, even though State law requires that only people who are convicted of crimes be included.  A pending bill in Albany would clarify the current law to make clear that the City’s practice is not allowed.

“The NYPD’s weak and cynical proposal does nothing to protect New Yorkers from genetic stop and frisk. Under their plan, surreptitious DNA sampling and DNA dragnets from people who haven’t been convicted of any crime will still run rampant,” said Terri Rosenblatt, Supervising Attorney of the DNA Unit. “Their vague suggestion that they will agree to expunge some samples provides little comfort to our clients — including kids as young as 12 — who are among the tens of thousands of people in the OCME index now or may be in the future. Our lawmakers should step in with real control and oversight of the NYPD and act to ban unlawful and unregulated DNA collection. All New Yorkers should reject anything less.”