Collecting DNA from people who are not charged with or even suspected of a crime has become an increasingly routine practice for police in smaller cities in places like Florida, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, ProPublica reports. While the largest cities typically operate public labs and feed DNA samples into the FBI’s national database, cities like Melbourne, Fl., have assembled databases of their own, often in partnership with private labs that offer such fast, cheap testing that police can afford to amass DNA even to investigate minor crimes, from burglary to vandalism.
To compile samples for comparison, some places have begun asking people to turn over DNA voluntarily during traffic stops, or even during what amount to chance encounters with police. In Melbourne, riding a bike at night without two functioning lights can lead to DNA swab, even if the rider is a minor. “In Florida law, basically, if we can ask consent, and if they give it, we can obtain it,” said Police Commander Heath Sanders. “We’re not going to be walking down the street and asking a five-year-old to stick out his tongue. That’s just not reasonable. But’s let’s say a kid’s 15, 16 years old, we can ask for consent without the parents.” In Bensalem Township, Pa., those stopped for DUI or on the street for acting suspiciously may be asked for DNA. Director of Public Safety Frederick Harran credits the burgeoning DNA database Bensalem now shares with Bucks County’s 38 other police departments with cutting burglaries 42 percent in the first four years of the program.