Sunday, March 10, 2013

DNA to the rescue?

New discoveries recently announced in DNA forensics 

No one reasonably armored against dogma wants to be philistine about progress. Still, how many times must we read that the latest science project will solve our crime problem?

I just read the latest study showing how DNA technology lowers crime up to 10 percent! Last month computerized predictive algorithms claimed the mantle of progress. In the 1990s it was Compstat.

Now scientists are about to announce 90-minute returns on DNA sampling versus up to 90 days that it takes now. It's a forensic revolution. DNA advances have done some remarkable things. They have sped convictions and exonerated the innocent. That's all good stuff.

Two thoughts come to mind: civil rights and, well, crime.

Civil rights and DNA? Last year the British Parliament backtracked from post 9/11 regulations that expanded police reach and they passed the Protection of Freedom Act. It limits public CCTV, biometrics and it regulates DNA databases.

The double helix structure of DNA - model by Instructables
Why regulate databases? According to one blogger: "It's very rare that someone is arrested and has NOTHING to do with crime and will not come our way again."

According to another: "Not true and this thinking is why the public does not respect the Police. False accusations are made all the time and people are investigated and released without charge."

True enough. The Virginia DNA Project uncovered a wrongful arrest/conviction rate for rapes of 8 - 15 percent prior to DNA testing.

That's both why we should regulate and why DNA is important.

Legalities aside, I have another question. Does DNA really work to cut crime? It's certainly not a community-building strategy that tackles neighborhood maladies and family-based dysfunction. Will it really allow police to arrest more chronic offenders so we can do community-building?

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