ACLU, Calif. Police Split On Prop. 69 on Collecting DNA Information
By Jackson Bell, The Los Angeles Times
GLENDALE, Calif. — Opponents of Proposition 69 say it's not fair that the government will collect DNA information from suspected felons before they face conviction, while supporters in law enforcement call it a useful tool similar to taking fingerprints.
Proposition 69, an initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot, would require the state to take DNA samples from adults and juveniles who are arrested on felony cases, even if they are not charged. DNA is now collected only on certain convicted felons.
Opponents, however, take umbrage in the fact that innocent people will be added to an existing database already containing murderers, rapists and child molesters. More than 50,000 people in the state are arrested yearly for felonies that do not result in criminal charges, said Bob Kearney, associate director of the ACLU in Northern California and spokesman for Vote No on Proposition 69.
The proposition would also allow law-enforcement agencies to take the entire DNA sample, not just markers for identification, Kearney said, portending that it would give government access to such private information as family medical history.
"There is abuse of genetic testing going on all the time, and there is no guarantee that the government five or 10 years down the road won't use it for some reason other than what they said," he said. "Why subject innocent people to that kind of threat?"
But Glendale Police Chief Randy Adams and state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer are among law enforcement officials who support the initiative, saying it is a useful tool for solving more crimes as well as exonerating those who are wrongly convicted.
"Right now, there are about two cold cases that are solved a day that otherwise wouldn't be," Adams said. "Obviously, it is a major boon to law enforcement."
Earlier this month, Lockyer told an audience at the Glendale Police station that the measure is not an invasion of privacy.
"For every arrestee, we take a mug shot and fingerprints," he said. "DNA is just acting like the fingerprints."
Proposition 69 — which would cost the state $20 million annually — also has a provision allowing those exonerated to get their DNA out of the database. But opponents counter that having the genetic sample destroyed would be unnecessarily difficult.
"It's not easy to get out of the database," Kearney said. "One has to petition three different agencies, then go before a judge … a lot of people are just not able to go through all of that."