New York, NY – The New York Police Department (NYPD) has agreed to dismantle portions of the DNA database it uses to solve crimes due to pressure from civil rights groups.
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea announced the overhaul on Thursday, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported.
The Local DNA Index System database, which currently includes approximately 82,000 profiles stored by the city’s chief medical examiner, has taken years to amass, according to The New York Times.
Those profiles include individuals who have been convicted of various offenses, as well as people who have been arrested or questioned by police, to include minors.
Civil rights groups have demanded that the database be shut down altogether, alleging that it violates the rights those whose profiles are included but who have not been convicted of a crime, The New York Times reported.
In response, Commissioner Shea has agreed to audit tens of thousands of samples that were collected from suspects to locate and expunge those that are at least two years old and have not been connected with a conviction or ongoing investigation.
NYPD Legal Operations Director Bob Barrows said that thousands of samples will be slashed from the database over the course of the next several weeks.
“We don’t want to saturate the database with profiles that aren’t yielding any results,” Barrows told The New York Times. “If these people are not convicted, if they are not a suspect in a law enforcement investigation or ongoing prosecution, those are profiles we want to look at.”
Under the new policy, the department will conduct similar audits every four years moving forward, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
But eliminating those profiles could also erase any chance of solving certain “cold cases,” which can take years to piece together, the New York Post reported.
For example, decades of unsolved crimes have been solved using the national Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which was established by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the 1990s.
Under the new policy, investigators will only be able to collect DNA samples from minors if they are under investigation for felony offenses such as hate crimes, sex crimes, and gun offenses, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported.
But those samples cannot be collected without the consent of the minor and his or her parents or guardians, according to The New York Times.
The Chief of Detectives may approve collection of DNA samples from minors charged with other crimes on a case-by-case basis, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported.
The policy change will also enable people to have their profiles removed from the database without a court order, as long as they bring acquittal paperwork proving they were not convicted, WHNS reported.
Civil rights groups and public defenders still weren’t pleased by Commissioner Shea’s new plan.
“The NYPD’s weak and cynical proposal does nothing to protect New Yorkers from genetic stop and frisk,” The Legal Aid Society’s DNA Unit Supervising Attorney Terri Rosenblatt told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
“Under their plan, surreptitious DNA sampling and DNA dragnets from people who haven’t been convicted of any crime will still run rampant,” Rosenblatt declared. “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.”
Rosenblatt told The New York Times that since law enforcement officers cannot be trusted to follow through with their assertions, another government agency should be tasked with overseeing the database expungement.
“Our lawmakers should step in with real control and oversight of the N.Y.P.D. and act to ban unlawful and unregulated DNA collection,” she said. “All New Yorkers should reject anything less.”
Queens Councilmember Donovan Richards, chair of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, said that police use DNA-collecting “dragnets” to target minorities, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported.
“We don’t know how often these dragnets occur. But I can guarantee that if we look, a large number are happening in black and brown neighborhoods,” Richards alleged. “I think the public should be outraged.”
The councilman said that the new DNA database policy “is a step in the right direction” but that “more needs to be done,” The New York Times reported.
“This idea is half-baked,” he told the paper. “It still affects black and brown people disproportionately, people who have not been convicted of anything.”
Commissioner Shea said he hopes that the database overhaul will help establish trust between the NYPD and citizens.
“As a Department, we have reformed policies and practices to support a system that is fair and effective while also cultivating trust with the community,” he said in a statement to The New York Times. “These changes are common sense and incorporate feedback we have gathered without compromising the ability for officers to successfully identify criminals, build strong cases and bring justice for victims.”