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UK's DNA marking gun: Stop, or I'll say stop again!

Does the SelectaDNA High Velocity Tagging System have any potential application in the United States?

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to PoliceOne Member SonofThor for helping to provide the title to this commentary. When I read his comment beneath the original news article I burst out in laughter so loud I think I may have startled my entire office. 
— Doug Wyllie, PoliceOne Editor in Chief

When I first read about the SelectaDNA High Velocity Tagging System for “marking” suspects so they may be safely “apprehended at a less confrontational time” I thought it was a joke.

Seriously, I thought the article was intended to be funny, like Hasbro’s less-lethal invention, the ACLU’s surprising endorsement of a new force option, or the new LE UAVs with jets from our annual April Fools’ spoof news.

I was mistaken. This thing exists, and apparently is being tested by police in the United Kingdom.

The gun and its marking cartridges for the SelectaDNA High Velocity Tagging System. (Image Courtesy of PR Newswire)
The gun and its marking cartridges for the SelectaDNA High Velocity Tagging System. (Image Courtesy of PR Newswire)

Let’s Think About This
Let’s set aside the fact that this news comes from the UK (and the perennial problem that “stuff which works there is not likely to work here”) as well as the already-unpopular idea of “tactical disengagement” and look at this thing for a minute. 

Does it have any potential application in the United States? My gut tells me no (or if it does, it would be limited), but there’s no harm in at least having the discussion. Let’s start with what the company says about it.

The company, which already produces top-of-the-line “asset marking” technology enabling law enforcement to track down stolen items, said in a press release about this new “human marking” product that it’s suited for use with crowds.

“Identifying an individual in a crowd or at a distance can be challenging for law enforcement officers and police especially when they are in riot situations or experiencing crowd control problems.”

When  I began giving this thing serious consideration, I immediately started to speculate about potential Fourth Amendment issues. In particular, I wondered about Graham v. Connor and the reasonableness language of the Fourth Amendment with regard to use-of-force and search and seizure.

I’m not an attorney, so I immediately spoke with one — PoliceOne Columnist Terry Dwyer — who not only was a cop for 22 years, but who now represents cops in discipline cases, critical incidents, and employment matters.

“I think it’s problematic if you’re going to have police pointing projectiles at somebody,” Dwyer said. “You get into use-of-force issues. You get into potential assault issues. It’s rife with Fourth Amendment problems.”

With this gizmo we’re looking at a unique situation.

“There are obviously cases where the police are chasing somebody and it doesn’t constitute a seizure until the police exercise control over the individual. But with this technology, once a subject is marked, does that become a seizure? Does it come within the framework of reasonableness?” Dwyer said.

Potential U.S. Uses?
Dwyer added that because the information available right now is pretty vague, he doesn’t see it being really clearly thought out yet, legally, at least with regard to U.S. use.

Personally, I can’t see widespread applications here in the United States, but I may be wrong (shockingly, that happens sometimes). The folks at SelectaDNA are incredibly smart, and their existing products thus far are world-class, so who knows, maybe they are onto something. 

Perhaps there is no difference (other than the obvious, uniqueness of the DNA coding) between this product and existing paint-marking technology in use today.

Perhaps this is a product which might see use in custodial/jail/prison scenarios. Perhaps it really is something for use crowd-control scenarios.

Perhaps, as one PoliceOne Member said in the comments area below the original news item, this thing would be “useful in situations like that encountered in Tennessee v. Garner, where the suspect was going to escape, and you wouldn't be able to capture them later because you don't know who they are.”

What do you think?  

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