August 21, 2014

Attorney general wants DNA collected on arrest

The state Department of Justice is renewing a push for police to collect DNA from some suspects at the time of their arrest.

Under current law, felons are required to submit a DNA sample to a state database after they are convicted. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is hoping to expand that provision so DNA is collected when a person is arrested on felony charges or convicted of a misdemeanor.

Van Hollen says increasing the database with information about known offenders could be “very helpful to public safety” and argues collecting it on arrest would allow police to solve crimes faster in the future.

AUDIO: Attorney General Van Hollen (:11)

Currently, about 12,000 DNA samples are collected by the state each year. If Wisconsin moves to collection on arrest, that number would jump to about 68,000 at a cost of more than $7 million for the first few years.

Van Hollen says increased court fees for those convicted of a crime would help cover the cost.

However, ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty believes taxpayers would end up footing most of the bill. Ahmuty says many people convicted of a crime already have a hard time paying the various fines and fees tacked on to their sentence. He says relying on them to fund expanded DNA collection would likely result in money being diverted away from other areas of law enforcement.

Ahmuty is also raising concerns about the invasion of privacy brought on by expanded DNA collection. While the ACLU does not oppose building a database of convicted criminals, he says collecting samples on arrest “turns the presumption of innocence on its head.”

AUDIO: Chris Ahmuty, ACLU (:12)

Ahmuty also worries having sensitive genetic information stored by police could lead to other problems, although Van Hollen argues safeguards will be in place to make sure that data is not abused.

The proposal is included in the agency’s budget request sent to the governor earlier this week. Governor Scott Walker has indicated he supports the idea, which could result in a push for the change during the next legislative session.