News by VICE

Police are collecting more DNA than ever before. But is it useful?

by Antonia Hylton
Nov 21 2016, 7:38am

This segment originally aired Nov. 17, 2016, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Police departments across the country have a new crime fighting tool in their arsenal: your DNA. Police can collect it almost anytime, anywhere, from just about anyone and keep it indefinitely. VICE News went to Bucks County, Pennsylvania to see how collecting DNA is affecting crime rates.

“There really is no law governing what we are doing right now and I’d like to keep it that way,” said Frederick Harran, who helped start Bensalem’s DNA database six years ago. He believes the program is working because DNA helps convict repeat offenders faster.

But many people remain skeptical about the new program. For almost 20 years, the FBI was the primary department that could collect DNA evidence. In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled local police could store DNA from anyone suspected of a “serious offense” — but what’s considered a serious offense is open for interpretation.

Although DNA plays a critical role in both convictions and exonerations, some are worried that as DNA collections expand across the country, so does the margin of error. Stephen Mercer explained how this could lead to oversampling in over-policed communities of color. “Do we want police to use technology in ways that are unregulated to subject people, to surveillance along the lines of race and class?”