Friday, July 9, 2010
How do you determine the greater good?
Many of you know that I have always been fascinated by serial killers or more precisely the police work and investigations that go into tracking them down. This week I was interested to read about how the LAPD has finally tracked down and arrested a suspect they believe is the "Grim Sleeper" who was an active serial killer in South Los Angeles for 25 years.
This comes as great news to the families of the victims of this predator as well as the community as a whole however the arrest has prompted a debate about the tactics used to track down Lonnie D. Franklin Jr. the accused. The police were led to him by what is known as a familial DNA search. Broken down simply this is what happened. Police had DNA evidence linking the killings together but no suspect to match it too. What they did was initiate DNA searches of prisoners in the California penal system who had similar DNA to the suspect not exact matches. Lonnie Franklin's son Christopher was incarcerated and they were able to match a partial DNA profile from him. This led them to his discarded pizza crust and found it was a match to the profile of The Grim Sleeper.
Pretty neat stuff huh? The police think it is. They are touting that "It is the first time an active familial search has been used to solve a homicide case in the United States". I thought so too until I started thinking a little bit more about it. There is just something that strikes the civil libertarian part of me wrong about a DNA database of families DNA that can be compared to others. Where does this database end? What lengths will it be used for? Sure catching a serial killer serves the greater good but what if the DNA database starts being used to track down other types of crimes? What about rape? Yes that probably serves the greater good but where does it stop? Is auto theft a crime that we are willing to search DNA databases to solve? How about shoplifting, or failing to pay child support?
There are other concerns too. Would this be applied fairly? The article makes the following point. "Those who oppose the technique argue that there are inherent privacy concerns, and that it serves, in essence, as a form of racial profiling because a higher proportion of inmates are members of minorities". I can see this point as well.
I guess my concern about the whole process is how it will be used and who may get caught up in the process. This seems very "Big Brother-ish" to me and I worry about overzealous police relying too much on DNA and not on old fashioned police work. What happens someday when someone is set free because some slick lawyer gets the right judge to make a ruling and where would that leave other cases using the same techniques? I'm happy that potentially the Grim Sleeper is off the streets but sure am concerned about all the questions it raises. I wonder what you all think?