New York City is building a vast, unregulated DNA database that police are already using to connect suspects to evidence from crime scenes across the five boroughs, reports The Trace and WNYC. In the last five years, the number of DNA profiles in New York’s local database has grown dramatically, driven in part by a push to collect DNA in every gun case. As of July, the Office of Chief Medical Examiner was storing about 64,000 genetic profiles. Details about the size of the database and its rapid growth have not been previously reported.
The DNA in the database comes largely from crime scenes and suspects. Lawyers say there are people in it who have never been convicted of a crime, and have no idea that their genetic profiles are routinely checked against evidence collected in criminal investigations. New York police say database hits generate thousands of solid investigative leads a year, and are a major way they nab dangerous criminals. “DNA is probably the most powerful scientific tool available to us,” said Emauel Katranakis, commander of the NYPD’s forensic investigations division. Forensic and legal experts agree that DNA evidence is a powerful crime-solving tool. But some have voiced alarm at the way New York City has built its database — with no oversight or scrutiny. State and federal DNA databases, by contrast, are subject to legislative oversight and strictly limit whose DNA can be stored, in most cases, to people who have been convicted of crimes. Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, called the “rogue” database “extremely troubling.”