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Police Iron Out DNA Law Glitches

March 11, 2002
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Police Iron Out DNA Law Glitches

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) - A state law that went into effect on Jan. 1 ordering everyone convicted of a felony or a sex-related misdemeanor to give authorities a sample of their DNA has glitches that have kept it from being carried out.

Local law enforcement agencies and the Michigan State Police Crime lab said there wasn't enough time to implement the law, passed in September.

"This is one of those classic pieces of legislation that, while it can do some remarkable good, it sometimes appears there's not enough thought given to how much we're going to increase the workload," John O'Brien, Oakland County's chief deputy prosecutor, told the Detroit Free Press for a Tuesday story. "It was a challenge."

State police said there could be as many as 50,000 samples this year alone. The new samples would join hundreds of thousands of others in a searchable national database to help detectives chase down criminals based on the DNA evidence they often leave behind.

In Oakland County, for example, many police agencies still had not received the swabs they needed to carry out the court orders. Most officers had not been trained in the procedure, which involves using special sponge-tipped sticks to swipe the inside of the offender's cheeks.

Even if local agencies had the swabs and the training, the burden of processing all the material and entering the results into the national database falls onto the state crime lab. The lab had almost no time to prepare for the onslaught.

But the glitches are starting to smooth out. O'Brien said Oakland County authorities created standardized forms and procedures for gathering the samples, some of which now used elsewhere in the state.

Law enforcement agencies agreed the new law would improve the already powerful national Combined DNA Index System.

Not everyone was happy about the new law. The American Civil Liberties Union was among those concerned that the newly amended law, which originally targeted only convicted sex offenders, has expanded alarmingly.

This most recent amendment now demands a DNA swab from someone convicted of a misdemeanor indecent exposure, said ACLU spokeswoman Wendy Wagenheim.

"Now we don't delineate between the college kid who gets drunk and urinates in public and the true sexual predator," Wagenheim said. "We're very concerned about the DNA database being expanded to the point of all of us saying, `Who's next?"'

But the benefits to law enforcement could be tremendous. O'Brien envisioned a day when crime-fighting technology was so advanced that would-be criminals would be scared straight by science.

"If, through these laws and the samples that are taken, we can identify a rapist or a killer ... and that saves one person from going through that, it's probably worthwhile," O'Brien said.

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