By Kevin Deutsch
Nearly 400 genetic profiles of victims and witnesses have been removed from New York City’s DNA identification index, a database that has come under scrutiny for what critics describe as illegal collection of genetic material, according to a new report.
The city medical examiner’s office, which maintains the database, said it removed 372 DNA profiles during the past five years for two reasons: court orders forcing the expungement of the profiles, and the fact that some profiles matched the DNA of a victim or witness in a reported crime, which the office is barred from storing.
The information was revealed in response to a Freedom of Information Law request filed by the Legal Aid Society and shared with the criminal justice news site, The Appeal.
The city’s DNA database includes tens of thousands of genetic samples procured by the NYPD, but few details about the city’s collection methodology – or whose DNA is kept on file – have been made public.
The law enforcement tool is not regulated by any city or state government oversight bodies, and defense attorneys recently sued to stop the NYPD from collecting samples for storage, alleging racial bias.
The city database contains more than 82,000 genetic profiles, more than 31,000 of which belong to people who were never charged with a crime. Some of the samples were collected surreptitiously by the NYPD, critics said.
A proposed state law would require New York City to expunge all records stored in the database.
The bill, sponsored by state Senator Brad Hoylman and co-sponsored by state Senators Julia Salazar and Andrew Gounardes, would clarify that the only DNA identification index authorized under current law is the one overseen by the state. It would also prohibit local governments from establishing or maintaining their own DNA databases.