The police love affair with the DNA database
Police warning: Rapists ‘to go free’ under DNA reform. Police chief warns 1,000 crimes a year, including murders and rapes, could go unsolved…
That’s the headline from The Times online. I couldn’t read any more because I’m neither a subscriber nor stupid. (Memo to Murdoch: why would I pay money to read police propaganda?) GeneWatch (biased, I know – but with the same bias I already have) comments on this report:
Today’s Times report was based on a statement by Chief Constable Sims about the number of matches with crime scene DNA that would be lost if innocent people’s DNA records are taken off the database. The figures are exaggerated because they are based on a false assumption that innocent people are as likely to commit future offences as people convicted of serious or multiple offences: in fact about eight out of ten offences are committed by a small number of repeat offenders. They are also estimates of database matches not convictions: only about a quarter of matches lead to convictions. Less that one per cent of crimes involving a DNA match are rapes and most rapes involve disputes about consent that cannot be resolved using DNA.
Sims was giving evidence to the committee of MPs considering the Protection of Freedoms Bill. GeneWatch subsequently also gave evidence, and comments:
The Bill will remove an estimated one million innocent people’s DNA and fingerprint records from police databases, including about 100,000 innocent children’s records. People accused but not convicted of minor offences with have their records removed at the end of an investigation, but the police will be allowed to keep the DNA and fingerprint records of some people accused but not convicted of serious offences for up to five years after their arrest. The proposals are similar to the current law in Scotland which is supported by the Scottish police. Everyone who is added to the database will have their DNA profile compared with all past crime scene DNA profiles and only be removed if they have not committed any of these offences.
Furthermore, GeneWatch believes that “perhaps as few as a dozen crimes a year are likely to have delayed or lost convictions as a result of the new law. These are not murders and rapes but volume crimes such as thefts and burglaries.” Most independent analyses suggest that very few crimes are ever solved by DNA, and very few criminals are convicted because of it. So why are we including DNA records of a 12-year old-schoolboy arrested for allegedly stealing a pack of Pokemon cards; a grandmother arrested for failing to return a football kicked into her garden; a ten-year-old victim of bullying who had a false accusation made against her; a 14-year-old girl arrested for allegedly pinging another girl’s bra; a 13-year-old who hit a police car with a snowball, and on and on?
Frankly I’m not sure which worries me most: that such a database ever came into existence, or that our police force wishes to cling on to it.