Do NYC Rules on Police Gathering DNA Evidence Discourage Officers?


New York City police protocols aimed at preventing contamination of potential DNA samples are not the stuff of Hollywood, reports the New York Times. “I don't think we've ever written a scene that way,” said Warren Leight of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” Detectives are told to do several cleaning chores before bringing a suspect into the interview room or “other area where the DNA Examplar Abandonment Suspect Sample will be collected.” In addition to cleaning with the bleach-and-water solution, detectives are told to place a “clean garbage bag into the garbage pail” and a “new, unused, clean disposable ashtray on a surface within reach of the suspect.”

Even collecting the discarded sample can be tricky. If the suspect drank from a plastic container, for example, the detective should “create a small hole in the lower portion of the bottle and allow the beverage to drain out.” One detective said the rules have discouraged detectives from seeking DNA samples during suspect interviews. The detective noted that if they do get a DNA sample, they could be called to testify in court about whether they followed the protocol, and any admission that they did not could prove damaging to a case. “The big hiccup is the 10 parts water to one part bleach thing,” the detective said. “Guys don't want to go to trial and testify about that. The guys are saying, 'If it's going to be this much trouble, forget about it,' ” the detective said. Police spokesman Paul Browne said there was “no evidence of a drop, precipitous or otherwise, in the collection of abandonment samples” since the guidelines were enacted in 2010.

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