MANHATTAN — If Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to establish a far-reaching DNA database is approved by the legislature, New York will become the first state in the country to have a so-called “all-crimes” DNA database that will collect genetic samples from people convicted of everything from the smallest of misdemeanors to the most serious felonies.
The plan, which was part of the governor's budget proposal, was passed by the State Senate earlier this year and would expand the existing database, which is limited to individuals convicted of felonies or certain misdemeanor crimes. The new, all-encompassing collection of DNA would extend to crimes as minor as jumping turnstiles in subway stations.
"Every day we wait to expand the state's DNA databank, another cold case goes unresolved, a person wrongly convicted sits in prison, and we risk one of our loved ones falling victim to a crime that could have been prevented,” Elizabeth Glazer, the state’s deputy secretary for public safety, said in a statement. “How do we know this? Because we have evidence that shows every time we expanded the databank, we solved more crimes. It's just that simple."
DNA collection has expanded three times since it was first established in 1996, although on a significantly smaller scale. This latest plan to extend DNA collection across all crimes has garnered support from all the state’s 62 district attorneys, 58 sheriffs and 400 police chiefs, The New York Times reported.
Crime victims have turned out to support the move, gathering in Albany recently to tout the benefits of a database that some claim could have brought justice for their families far sooner. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg has also embraced plans for the new, expanded program.
“Six years ago we helped lead the charge for a new state law that expanded DNA collection, and now the time has come for us to take the next step,” Bloomberg said in a recent statement.
But support for such rampant DNA swabbing is not universal.
The New York Civil Liberties Union issued a press release calling for more regulations to govern the use of the database, noting that DNA testing is not foolproof.
The civil rights organization would like officials to create an independent task force to oversee DNA collection policies and DNA processing in forensic labs.
The NYCLU is also calling for those who are charged with a crime to have access to DNA and other forensic evidence so they can prove their innocence, and for new procedures to be established to ensure that crime-scene evidence is effectively preserved.
“Bigger just simply isn’t better when it comes to DNA databases,” Jeremy Gruber, president of the Council for Responsible Genetics, said in a statement. “The chance for false matches is far higher when authorities search through an ever increasing number of profiles than when they compare a single individual profile to a suspect.”
“Partial DNA matches and mixing of samples at crime scenes further increase the chances for a false match,” Gruber added.