San Francisco Cops Are Running Rape Victims' DNA Through Criminal Databases Because What Even The Fuck
from the converting-rape-victims-to-grist-for-the-jail-mill dept
There are things people expect the government to do. And then there are the things the government actually does. The government assumes many people are comfortable with things it does that are technically legal, but certainly not how the average government user expects the system to behave.
Some of this can be seen in the Third Party Doctrine, which says people who knowingly share information with third parties also willingly share it with the government. But very few citizens are actually cool with this extended sharing, no matter what the Supreme Court-created doctrine says. This tension between people’s actual expectations and the government’s portrayal of the people’s expectations is finally being addressed by the nation’s top court. Recent rulings have shifted the balance back towards actual reasonable expectations of privacy, but there’s still a whole lot of work to be done.
So, when rape victims report sexual assaults to law enforcement, they certainly don’t expect their DNA samples will be run through crime databases to see if these victims of crimes have committed any crimes. But that’s exactly what the San Francisco PD has been doing, according to this report from Megan Cassidy of the San Francisco Chronicle.
The San Francisco police crime lab has been entering sexual assault victims’ DNA profiles in a database used to identify suspects in crimes, District Attorney Chesa Boudin said Monday, an allegation that raises legal and ethical questions regarding the privacy rights of victims.
Boudin said his office was made aware of the purported practice last week, after a woman’s DNA collected years ago as part of a rape exam was used to link her to a recent property crime.
Shocking to the conscience, as the courts say? You’d better believe it. No one reporting a crime expects to be investigated for a different crime. And there are already enough logistical and psychological barriers standing between rape victims and justice. Knowing their rape kit might be processed in hopes of finding the accuser guilty of other crimes isn’t going to encourage more victims to step forward.
On top of that, it might be illegal. California has pretty robust protections for crime victims. The state has a “Victims’ Bill of Rights” that guarantees several things to those reporting crimes. Nothing explicitly forbids police from running victim DNA through crime lab databases, but this clause directly addresses the outcome of successful searches, which would result in publicly available records as police move forward with arresting and prosecuting the crime victim for crimes they allegedly committed.
To prevent the disclosure of confidential information or records to the defendant, the defendant’s attorney, or any other person acting on behalf of the defendant, which could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family or which disclose confidential communications made in the course of medical or counseling treatment, or which are otherwise privileged or confidential by law.
Prosecuting a crime creates plenty of paperwork and arrest records are public records. A defendant could easily access records about their accuser — records that wouldn’t have existed without the assistance of this completely extraneous search.
Fortunately, this revelation has prompted an internal investigation by the SFPD. Unfortunately, an internal investigation is also the easiest way to bury incriminating documents, stiff-arm outsiders seeking information, stonewall requests from city officials for more information, and, most importantly, find some way to clear anyone involved of wrongdoing.
SFPD police chief Bill Scott at least has the presence of mind to comprehend the problem this practice poses.
Scott said, “We must never create disincentives for crime victims to cooperate with police, and if it’s true that DNA collected from a rape or sexual assault victim has been used by SFPD to identify and apprehend that person as a suspect in another crime, I’m committed to ending the practice.”
Good. And: whatever. Don’t be “committed” to “ending the practice.” Just fucking do it. You’re the police chief. There’s no reason you can’t issue a mandate immediately forbidding running DNA searches on rape victims. I’m no expert on police protocol, but it seems like a memo beginning with “EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY” would end the practice, um, immediately and inform future violators of the potential consequences of their action. A wishy-washy “commitment” that’s accompanied by no action tells the rank-and-file they’re free to do whatever until the internal investigation is completed and its results handed over to city officials. Waiting until the facts are in (and thoroughly massaged) is a blank check for months or years of abuse.
And this sort of thing may not be an anomaly localized entirely within the SFPD. Other law enforcement agencies may be doing the same thing. The only difference is the SFPD was the first to successfully hit the middle of the Venn diagram containing rape victims and alleged criminals. Any other agency doing the same shady searching should probably knock it the fuck off. While it may seem like good police work to run searches on any DNA samples willingly handed to them, the optics — if nothing else — should be all the deterrent they need, especially when it comes to victims of sexual assault who are already treated with something approaching disdain by far too many law enforcement officers.