It's not only sexual assault survivors whose DNA has been stored by the San Francisco Police Department's crime lab – and routinely searched for matches to suspects in criminal cases. For seven years, the department's crime lab has also been keeping all processed DNA – including from victims of violent crimes, child victims, or people not involved in the crime like roommates and consensual partners – according to the police chief and a copy of the lab's standard operating procedures, USA Today reports. The use of such a database is highly unusual, unethical and shocking, law enforcement and forensic experts said. One described the department's admission as a "nuclear bomb." DNA belonging to consensual sexual partners in rape cases is put into the database in order to exclude them from a suspect's DNA, said Police Chief Bill Scott, adding that he believed the use of such a database has long been an "accepted practice" beyond San Francisco.
The scope of how many victims or volunteers may have had their DNA analyzed by the department's crime lab and matched to unknown suspect DNA to solve a criminal case over the last seven years is unknown. Mark Barash, a forensic science program coordinator at San Jose State University, said what the lab has been doing is "absolutely wrong" and "contradictory to any professional ethics." Legal experts questioned whether the usage was a federal law violation, unlawful search and seizure, or simply an end-around providing victims-turned-suspects with constitutional rights that would otherwise be afforded them. "That's just inappropriate, in my opinion. You can't take just a swath of people and throw them in the databank," retired San Diego Police detective Carlton Hershman said. "I don't care if you're a career criminal, I don't care if you're a gang member and you've been shot. Your DNA should not be dumped in with suspects. That's not how we operate."