NowThis Opinions
S2 E90

Legal Aid Society is Working to Protect New Yorkers From 'Genetic Stop and Frisk'

The NYPD has been collecting DNA without people knowing it.

NowThis obtained video of a suspect inside an NYPD interrogation room in which an NYPD investigator cleans a table before the subject is brought in, places a soda and ashtray on the table, and offers a suspect a cigarette so they can obtain his DNA. After the man leaves the room, an officer wearing gloves enters and dumps the cigarette butt into an evidence envelope. It is then sent to the NYC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

“People are familiar with the concept of stop and frisk—when the police stop someone and pat them down,” the Legal Aid Society’s Terry Rosenblatt explained. “Surreptitious DNA collection is when the police officer takes a DNA sample from someone without them knowing it. It’s genetic stop and frisk.”

In New York state, you need a warrant or a court order to take someone’s DNA. But Rosenblatt said the NYPD has devised a way to get around these rules.

“Unsurprisingly, the primary targets of the NYPD’s genetic stop and frisk are no different than the NYPD’s targets of traditional stop and frisk,” she stated. “Thy are typically people of color in low-income communities that are already suffering from a lack of services and over-policing.”

However, surreptitious DNA collection only works if people don’t know what’s happening. The more people know, the more their genetic privacy rights will be respected.

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