Legal Aid Society


Listen: When the NYPD Secretly Collects Your DNA

Attorneys Phil Desgranges and Dave Pollock recently joined The Brian Lehrer Show to discuss The Legal Aid Society’s new lawsuit which seeks to end the City’s secret DNA collection and storage practices.

The suit challenges the illegal, secret seizure and storage of DNA material from New Yorkers whom the police suspected of committing a crime without obtaining a warrant or court order. This controversial practice has created a rogue DNA database — called the Suspect Index — with over 30k individuals whose DNA is perpetually compared to crime scene evidence. Unlike federal and state DNA databases, there is no legislative authorization for the City’s Suspect Index, which treats thousands of New Yorkers as perpetual criminal suspects in all crimes involving DNA evidence.

Desgranges explained how NYPD officers will offer a person something to eat or drink and later use the item handled by the individual (a cup for example) to extract DNA and enter it into the Suspect Index, regardless of whether that person was found to have been involved in any criminal activity.

The database also includes children. Pollock recounted an incident in which a 12-year-old boy was given a soda by officers and subsequently, without his knowledge, had his DNA added to the index.

Desgranges and Pollock refuted claims that a DNA database is a neutral tool for law enforcement, and that innocent people have nothing to fear.

“The NYPD is not asking all 8.5M New Yorkers to provide them with their DNA so they can solve any unsolved crimes,” Desgranges said. “What they are doing is primarily targeting Black and brown folks, effectively turning those groups into permanent suspects.”

“There is significant potential for errors to occur and for individuals in the database to suffer as a result,” Pollock added. “One example of a way that can happen is lab contamination.”

“A Queens man was wrongfully arrested and lost his job because of a laboratory error by the medical examiner that resulted in an erroneous database hit,” he continued. “The error was only detected because he had an airtight alibi.”

Listen to the full segment below.