How It Works
DNA databases contain genetic information about individuals, which can be analyzed against
a suspect’s DNA for a potential match. According to media reports, the NYPD’s DNA database
contains as many as 82,473 genetic profiles, including samples obtained from children.
DNA databases raise the following concerns:
Privacy. Biometric samples for DNA databases can be collected without appropriate
standards that respect individual privacy. Individuals are not always given a full and
accurate representation of how their genetic profile will be used, and there are often no
protocols for deletion.
In addition, voluntary samples can be collected from children that are incapable of giving
informed consent. Finally, the secret collection of “abandoned” genetic samples means that
many individuals have no notice that their genetic information was collected and added to
a city database.
Racial Bias. Communities of color are likely overrepresented in DNA databases resulting
from overpolicing of specific communities.
NYPD Policy & Scope of Use
Detective Guide (2013) contains redacted instructions for collecting “abandoned” DNA
samples in both “controlled” and “uncontrolled” environments.
Chief of Detectives Memo #17 (2010). The memo contains instructions for how to collect
“abandoned” DNA samples from objects such as water bottles, bubble gum, and apples for
submission to Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) for examination.
Many individuals in DNA databases have never been accused or convicted of any crime, and
there are limited avenues for impacted indivudials to request deletion.
There are three methods for the NYPD to obtain biometric samples for DNA analysis:
1. Voluntary sample. Officers can ask individuals to provide a biometric sample for DNA
analysis, but they are not necessarily required to disclose that it may be used for an
unlimited number of investigations and that the sample will be retained indefinitely. They
are also not required to tell individuals that they are allowed to refeuse consent. At
times, police collect biometric samples from children without a lawyer, parent, or
One New York State court ruled that the NYPD violated a minor’s Fourth Amendment rights
against unreasonable search and seizure when they collected a genetic sample for DNA
analysis where they received a written consent from the minor without the presence of his
parent, guardian, or attorney.
2. Secret collection of “abandoned” samples. NYPD officers will obtain “abandoned” genetic
samples from discarded objects, such as water bottles, chewing gum, and apples. For
example, police officers bring suspects into interrogation rooms, wait for the suspect to
take a drink or smoke a cigarette, and collect the sample once a suspect throws the object
3. Court-ordered collection. A court will order a suspect to provide a sample for DNA
profiling where the prosecution can establish: “(1) probable cause to believe the suspect
has committed the crime. (2) a ‘clear indication’ that relevant material evidence will be
found, and (3) the method used to secure it is safe and reliable.”