The Legal Aid Society has called on the City Council to abolish genetic stop-and-frisk after the New York City Police Department (NYPD) recently announced that it would remove some New Yorkers’ profiles from its DNA database.
In a memorandum published on its website, the NYPD said it has reviewed approximately 4,000 DNA profiles currently in the City databank and has determined that nearly half of them (1,845) would be removed because the impacted people had not been convicted of a crime.
The agency said that it would keep the remainder of these 4,000 profiles in the databank, as the impacted people were later convicted of a crime or are currently the subject of an NYPD investigation. Additionally, for a small number of people, the NYPD said it was keeping their DNA profiles because it did not believe that the people involved were exonerated for legitimate reasons.
The NYPD said it will continue to review additional profiles in the DNA index after the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) said it had previously identified 20,000 for potential removal. The NYPD did not disclose any names of the people whose DNA was removed or kept, nor did it indicate whether the people whose DNA was reviewed would be notified about the status of their genetic material.
New York State law bars all DNA indexing from people who have not been first convicted of a crime. It also requires that DNA be taken from a person only upon warrant, court order, or valid consent. Notwithstanding these rules, the Legal Aid Society said the NYPD collected DNA through surreptitious means by pressuring people into agreeing to give DNA samples.
Working with the OCME, the Legal Aid Society said the NYPD has grown a DNA index of almost 34,000 people — none of whom were convicted at the time their DNA was taken. At a recent City Council hearing, the NYPD admitted that, at least, 25 percent of the people in the City DNA index have never been convicted of a crime, and at least 5 percent of them are children younger than 18.
In a recent letter to City Council, scientists who work at the OCME, complained about the NYPD’s heavy involvement in the DNA index. They pointed out that the OCME holds itself out as an independent laboratory, but that its close cooperation with the NYPD undermines that independence. The laboratory staff also questioned whether the collection and indexing of “surreptitiously collected” DNA was consistent with the values of everyday New Yorkers.
Terri Rosenblatt, Supervising Attorney of the DNA Unit at The Legal Aid Society, said “The NYPD has for years been engaging in genetic stop-and-frisk by gathering DNA from children and people who haven’t been convicted of a crime in clear violation of the law.” She added, “Their half-hearted attempt to remove some of those profiles does not fix this problem, and instead is a cynical ploy to maintain their rogue practices. Even the staff at OCME itself rejects these tactics and we join them in calling on City Council to enact meaningful, permanent regulation to shut down the City’s illegal DNA index once and for all.”
In response to a request by Norwood News for comment on the matter, Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison said, “The NYPD has made proactive adjustments to its DNA policies to further achieve fair and effective policing. At the same time, the NYPD, as a fervent advocate for victims, will continue striving to find the right balance between ongoing criminal justice reform and precision crime fighting on behalf of all New Yorkers.”