A new bill to be introduced Thursday would bar the NYPD from collecting DNA samples from children without consent from a parent or guardian.
City Councilmembers Donovan Richards and Diana Ayala are expected to introduce the bill on Thursday afternoon in a move advocates call a step forward in ending "genetic stop and frisk" targeting Black and brown New Yorkers. The DNA is often obtained surreptitiously, like through giving a child a soda while in custody.
"They’ve taken children as young as 12 into interrogation rooms and given these children sodas or food, and even in some cases with children as young as 16 cigarettes and use that as a rouse to collect their DNA," Terri Rosenblatt, supervising attorney at the Legal Aid Society's DNA Unit, told Gothamist. "That’s something that should chill and shock all New Yorkers, and it’s admirable that Council is standing up to that practice."
The new bill would mandate the NYPD obtain consent to collect DNA from children; the bill reads: "No member of the department or other law enforcement officer shall collect a DNA sample from a minor prior to the lawful arrest of such minor without first obtaining the written consent of such minor’s parent, legal guardian or attorney."
"I see this as a major step in opening up the conversation of how do we reimagine policing in our city," Richards told THE CITY, which first reported on the new proposal.
Exceptions would include DNA from a crime scene not directly taken from a minor or if the child is a victim of an alleged crime, the current proposal reads.
"While the bill is really laudable in its goal of keeping the NYPD from stealing DNA, we also have to be vigilant in making sure the NYPD then isn’t then trying to go around that by then coercing consent," Rosenblatt said. "Modern DNA testing has as much if not more potential to ensnare the wrong person than it does to exonerate the right person."
There are nearly 34,000 DNA profiles of New Yorkers considered suspects in the database used by the NYPD and maintained by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. About 20,000 have been flagged for review and potential removal by the medical examiner's office. About 47,500 more samples are logged in the city's the forensic index, like samples from crime scenes, totaling more than 81,000 samples in the local database, the Medical Examiner's office confirmed.
As of last month, about 1,900 had been approved by the NYPD for removal, out of about 4,000 so far reviewed. About 5 percent of the database profiles are from juveniles.
UPDATE, October 15th: After publication of this article, the NYPD's Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison said that the department "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," Harrison said in a statement.