ACLU of Virginia Asks Charlottesville Police to Halt DNA Collection from African-American Males

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
April 12, 2004 12:00 am

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Announces Effort to Inform Target Population About Right to Refuse Testing


RICHMOND, VA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today sent a letter to Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy J. Longo, Jr. asking him to halt the detention of African American men “practically at random” in order to collect saliva samples for DNA testing as part of a police investigation.

The ACLU request comes in the wake of reports that the Charlottesville police have collected 197 DNA samples from African American men as part of an investigation of a serial rapist in the area.

“The stunning number of samples collected by your department indicates that the net you have cast to locate your suspect is far too large to fit comfortably within the framework of our Constitution, which requires an individualized approach to criminal investigations,” the ACLU said in a letter signed by ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.

Because the saliva samples collected for DNA testing are provided voluntarily, the police may not technically be violating the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable searches, Willis explained. But the ACLU maintains that the collection of DNA on such a large scale violates the spirit of the Constitution and is bad public policy regarding race relations.

“The ACLU has no intention of undermining your efforts to solve these serious crimes,” the ACLU said in the letter, “but we strongly suggest that you narrow the scope of your investigation by using more precise indicia for selecting individuals whose DNA is to be sought. In order to restore pubic confidence in the Police Department, we also recommend that you publicize the new criteria to the residents of Charlottesville immediately.”

The ACLU said the racial aspect of the DNA search policy cannot be ignored.

“The suspect in this instance is an African-American male, which is why only African-Americans are being tested,” Willis noted. “But if the suspect were a white male, we wonder if nearly 200 of them would have been approached by the Charlottesville police and asked to give up their DNA for testing. The Police Department should be asking itself the same question.”

Willis said the ACLU intends to initiate a public education campaign to inform African-American males in Charlottesville about their constitutional right to refuse to provide saliva samples to police officers, unless it is under circumstances required by law.

A town meeting with the Chief of Police is scheduled for this evening beginning at 8:00 p.m. at Clark Hall on the University of Virginia grounds.

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