NY mulls use of DNA familial matching
The draft policy says that before familial searching is done, local police have to certify that reasonable investigative efforts have been exhausted
By Anthony M. Destefano
NEW YORK — A state panel of DNA experts approved on Monday a draft policy allowing familial searching, a new and controversial form of genetic testing, as a way of helping police solve homicide, certain sex crimes and terrorism cases.
By a unanimous vote, the DNA subcommittee of the state Commission on Forensic Science approved a short policy statement calling for familial searching, also known as “FS,” as well as a set of regulations to govern the procedure in New York.
The subcommittee also recommended that the commission approve the policy, which garnered interest as a result of the killing of Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano last August. Police got DNA from Vetrano’s body but couldn’t get any matches with genetic profiles in the state DNA database.
The draft policy approved by the subcommittee said that before familial searching is done, the local police and prosecutors have to certify that reasonable investigative efforts had been exhausted or that emergency circumstances exist. It would also be used in investigations dealing with first-degree kidnapping and arson.
Interest increased in familial searching following a November 2016 story in Newsday which described familial searching and its potential use in the Vetrano investigation, which at that time seemed stalled. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown issued strong statements calling for changes in state procedures to allow familial testing.
“Today’s action by the DNA Subcommittee of the NYS Commission on Forensic Science unanimously approving familial match DNA searches is an important step forward in identifying the guilty, excluding the innocent and bringing closure to the families of victims of unsolved homicides,” Brown said in a statement. “While the journey for justice for those families is not yet complete, this is an important milestone.”
The Vetrano family also support the testing, even though police, using more traditional investigative methods, were finally able to make an arrest in early February of a suspect in Karina’s homicide.
Some civil libertarians have voiced concerns about privacy and the fact that the existing state DNA database has a disproportionately high number of profiles of people of color. Proponents said familial searching is race-neutral.