Police are seeking powers to take DNA samples from suspects on the streets and for non-imprisonable offences such as speeding and dropping litter.

The demand for a huge expansion of powers to take DNA comes as a government watchdog announced the first public inquiry into the national DNA database.

There is growing concern among MPs and civil liberties groups about the number of children under 10 and young black men on the database ? the biggest in the world. But a number of police forces in England and Wales are backing proposals that would add millions more samples to it.

The Association of Chief Police Officers gave a warning, however, that allowing police to take samples for non-recordable offences ? crimes for which offenders cannot be imprisoned ? might be perceived as indicative of ?the increasing criminalisation of the generally law-abiding public?.

Support for an extension of police powers to take samples was disclosed yesterday in responses to a Home Office consultation paper that was published this year. ?A number of respondents welcomed the ability to reduce the threshold, including to the extent of allowing for the taking of fingerprints, DNA and footwear impressions for non-recordable offen-ces for the purpose of offender identi-fication and searching databases,? said a Home Office paper summarising responses to the consultation.

It added: ?The second issue relates to the taking of fingerprints, photographs and samples on the street. This was welcomed at an operational level as a means of increasing officer confidence in knowing who they are dealing with and enabling them to deal more effectively with the incident at the scene.?

Kath Mashiter, of Lancashire police, and Brian Pincher, of Norfolk police, called for officers to be allowed to take DNA and fingerprints from suspects outside the custody environment.

Inspector Thomas Huntley, of the Ministry of Defence police, supported ?the taking of fingerprints, DNA and footwear impressions for non-recordable offences for the purpose of the offender identification and searching the database?.

Mr Huntley added: ?While the increase of suspects on the database will lead to an increased cost, this should be considered as preferential to allowing a serious offender to walk from custody following arrest for a non-recordable offence.?

There are almost four million samples on the database, including more than 100 of children aged under 10, even though they have not attained the age of criminal responsibility. A further 883,888 records of children aged between 10 and 17, and 46 records of people aged over 90, are held on the database, which cost more than ?300 million.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal, QC, the Attorney-General, admitted when she was a Home Office minister that three quarters of the young black male population would soon be on the DNA database.

The Human Genetics Commission, the Government?s independent DNA watchdog, yesterday announced the first public inquiry into the database. Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, QC, chairwoman of the commission, said: ?The police in England and Wales have powers, unrivalled internation- ally, to take a DNA sample from any arrested individual, without their consent. We want to hear the public?s views on whether storing the DNA profiles of victims and suspects who are later not charged or acquitted is justified by the need to fight crime.?

Lady Kennedy added: ?The database has a preponderance of young men, with a third of black males currently on it. And anyone on it is there for life. On the other hand, a steadily increasing number of serious crimes, including murders and rapes, are being solved and criminals brought to book with its help. These are issues that need to be considered and we need to know what the public think.?

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, said last night: ?It is inconceivable that the powers of the police could be extended without a serious and substantive debate in Parliament. They have already encroached on people?s privacy without proper debate on this matter and this can go no further.?

A Home Office spokesman said: ?The DNA database has revolutionised the way the police can protect the public through identifying offenders and securing more convictions.

?The consultation is about maximising police efficiency and ensuring that appropriate and effective safeguards are in place. No decisions have yet been made and any detailed proposals will be subject to a further public consultation next year.?

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