Genetics In Crime/Law Enforcement
By Alena Blaise
Law enforcement has evolved greatly due to advancements in science and technology. From the first criminal fingerprint identification by inspector Eduardo Alvarez in 1892 Argentina, to the creation of the polygraph a century ago in Berkeley, California, STEM has allowed the justice system to make important decisions concerning criminal cases with striking precision. However, with all technology comes the potential for it to be misused, or seen as an unethical danger to society. Recent developments in forensic technology have increased reliability on genetic material for accurate criminal identification. Following the 2013 Supreme Court case Maryland v King, it was ruled constitutional for local law enforcement to collect the DNA of people who are arrested regardless of if they were charged of a crime. This was then used to match Alonzo Jay King, Jr’s DNA to a sample collected years ago and convict him of first degree rape in 2012.
In this case, it may seem as if this DNA identification was used to keep a criminal off of the streets. More often than not, though, DNA matching can involve innocent parties in a criminal process without their awareness. Familial Searching, for example, is a nuance of DNA identification that is possible due to the use of genetic databases. One of the most prominent cases associated with the ethicality of familial searching would be the 2005 arrest of serial killer Dennis Rader. Over the course of three decades, the corpses of ten women were found with foreign DNA in the near vicinity. Over the course of those 30 years, police suspected Rader, but struggled to identify the DNA found because it didn’t exist on the database. A few leads later, police decided to subpoena the pap smear of Rader’s daughter and later made a successful partial DNA match. Here we have another case where DNA matching was used to detain a threat to society, yet was obtained in a questionable fashion.
But it begins to raise the question of if this technology targets certain people more than others. According to the Personal Genetics Education Project, African American DNA samples make up 40% of the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (As of 2016). At first glance, this statistic may not seem alarming. But, considering the fact that African Americans only make up 13% of the US population, they are unproportionally represented in DNA databases. The first implication of this is that African Americans are more likely to be genetically identified using forensics than any other group in America. Second, it means that the familial searching method might work more so for Black criminals than other races. Not to mention the margin of error existing from the possibility of sample contamination and other human errors. So in total, although the use of genetic technology is becoming increasingly reliable, but it simultaneously underscores several concerns as to how it will augment certain societal problems, such as civil liberties.