Crime

Police Search Rape Kit DNA To See if Victims Are Also Criminals

Plus: Spike in people who want less immigration, gun enforcement won't stop violent crime, the Palin libel trial, and more...

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California officials are calling for an end to rape kit testing outside of rape investigations. San Francisco's district attorney said Monday that DNA collected from alleged rape victims—evidence known as a rape kit—has been used to check if they are also criminals. District Attorney Chesa Boudin accused the city's police crime lab of searching a database that includes DNA from sexual assault investigations in "attempts to identify crime suspects."

"I am disturbed that victims who have the courage to undergo an invasive examination to help identify their perpetrators are being treated like criminals rather than supported as crime victims," said Boudin. "We should encourage survivors to come forward—not collect evidence to use against them in the future. This practice treats victims like evidence, not human beings. This is legally and ethically wrong."

According to Boudin, this practice led to at least one person—a woman whose DNA was collected years ago as part of a rape examination—being arrested for a property crime. Boudin said his office is investigating how often arrests of this sort occur, as well as "demanding that this practice end immediately [and] encouraging local and state legislators to introduce legislation to end this practice in California."

Some lawmakers are already taking up the task.

"If survivors believe their DNA may end up being used against them in the future, they'll have one more reason not to participate in the rape kit process," said state Sen. Scott Wiener (D–District 11). "That's why I'm working with the DA's office to address this problem through state legislation, if needed."

San Francisco District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen is also working on it. "Any DNA evidence collected from victims of rape must not be used for any other purpose than investigating the rape itself," said Ronen. "I have asked to the City Attorney to draft legislation to prevent DNA evidence—or any sort of evidence from a victim's rape kit—to be used for anything other than investigating that rape."

Without admitting that it's done, San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said he is committed to stopping it. "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," Scott said.

The practice might be unconstitutional under California's constitution, since it violates victim privacy, pointed out Michael Risher of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.

"Federal law rightly prohibits the police from uploading these types of samples into the national Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which is used to match DNA samples collected from crimes scenes with those collected from people convicted of or in some cases arrested for crimes," noted Risher. "Local agencies that maintain separate databases should follow this sensible rule to ensure that victims' DNA is not retained and used for unrelated purposes. This is especially important for California law-enforcement agencies like SFPD because, unlike the federal Constitution, the California Constitution expressly protects privacy rights and victims' rights."


FREE MINDS

Immigration policy preferences appear disconnected from reality. A new poll reveals how politics, media, and public perception may drive immigration sentiment more than reality does. Immigration levels went down in 2021, but people who want less immigration to the U.S. are less satisfied with immigration levels now than they were in the past few years, with the jump driven by dissatisfaction among Republicans. The findings suggest that people may simply believe—without evidence, or because of rhetoric coming from right-leaning press and politicians—that immigration is much higher under Joe Biden than it was under Donald Trump.

In fact, "immigration into the United States in 2021 plunged as a result of both a decline in international travel brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictive U.S. immigration policies, according to new report from the Census Bureau," The Intercept reported in January:

The nation's political and media classes were seemingly so obsessed over the images of migrants at the border that they failed to grasp the truth, which was that immigration levels collapsed in 2021.

The startling Census Bureau report found that net international migration into the United States increased by just 247,000 people in 2021, the lowest annual level for any year since at least 2010. That's about half the number of people who came into the country between 2019 and 2020, during the Trump administration, when net international migration totaled 477,000. The 2021 figure was also far below the 1,049,000 who came into the U.S. between 2015 and 2016, the highest level for any year in that decade.

Overall, "nearly six in 10 Americans, 58%, are dissatisfied with the level of immigration into the U.S. today, while 34% are satisfied. This marks an eight-percentage-point increase in dissatisfaction since last year and a return to the 2019-2020 range," report the pollsters at Gallup. Some 35 percent want to see less immigration, 9 percent want to see more immigration, and 14 percent said they're dissatisfied with current levels but also don't want to see a change.

"The proportion who want less immigration has nearly doubled from 19% in 2021 and is well above where it was in 2019 (23%) and 2020 (25%)," notes Gallup. And "since last year, spanning the change from the Trump to the Biden administration, Republicans' dissatisfaction has grown from 55% to 87%. The current figure is three points above the previous high recorded in 2015, the last time a Democrat occupied the White House."


FREE MARKETS

Why aggressive gun control isn't the way to stop violent crime. A new report out of Philadelphia looked at more than 2,000 shootings between 1999 and 2019 and policies intended to stop them. "Focusing so many resources on removing guns from the street while a constant supply of new guns is available is unlikely to stop gun violence," notes the report.

At Slate, Jon Pfaff examines the report's results and compares them to the gun policies proposed by New York City Mayor Eric Adams:

During Biden's visit to New York City, Adams called for a "9/11-type response" to gun violence. The thrust of his plan—besides exhorting the state legislature to roll back recent reforms on bail and discovery—is to aggressively go after guns by increasing detection efforts at state entry points, expanding funding for the New York Police Department's Gun Violence Suppression Division, working more closely with the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to trace guns, and investing in new surveillance technology to detect illegal firearms. Most consequentially, Adams promises to revive the NYPD's undercover "anti-crime units"—disbanded in 2020 amid concerns about unconstitutional stops and excessive violence—and rechristen them "Neighborhood Safety Teams," deploying 400 to 500 officers on the streets to focus on "gun removals."

The Philadelphia report—written by a wide range of sometimes contentious stakeholders, including the Philadelphia Police Department, the district attorney's office under reformer Larry Krasner, the Department of Public Health, and the Defender Association of Philadelphia—suggests that such interdiction is likely futile. The authors provided analyses and policy recommendations for a city suffering from a record 559 homicides in 2021. While the proposals from the Philadelphia police broadly track with the Adams plan, the recommendations from the other stakeholders, including the city's district attorney, caution strongly against an approach that centers on gun interdiction. …

Krasner also worries that gun enforcement won't actually solve gun violence; he notes that many in law enforcement support gun possession cases as a way to fight gun violence "in spite of little research supporting the approach."


FOLLOWUPS

Mayor resigns after ice fishing comments. The mayor of Hudson, Ohio, earned nationwide mockery for his comments about ice fishing and prostitution. Mayor Craig Shubert insists it was just dry humor that the rest of us didn't get. Nonetheless, he has resigned from his position. "My attempt to inject a bit of dry humor to make a point about this, in the midst of a cold, snowy February, was grossly misunderstood," Shubert said in a resignation letter.

Sarah Palin case thrown out. Earlier this month, we covered the defamation case that former Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin brought against The New York Times, noting that she faced an uphill battle in proving her defamation claims since—as a public figure—she had to show the Times was acting with malice in an editorial that suggested a link between Palin's political action committee and a mass shooting. A judge has now thrown out that case, saying that Palin's team failed to show that the Times had been knowingly sharing false information or reckless in doing so.

U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff did not think they showed that the paper had acted with actual malice. "The judge said that standard, aimed at allowing robust public debate on issues of public importance, is open to question. However, he said it was not his role to revisit that rule," notes Politico. "Rakoff said he would continue to allow the jury to deliberate to a verdict, arguing that an appeal in the case seems inevitable and that the jury's verdict could be useful to the appeals court."

Canada invokes emergency powers to break up trucker protest. "Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he's invoking the Emergencies Act for the first time in Canada's history to give the federal government temporary powers to handle ongoing blockades and protests against pandemic restrictions," reports CBC News. Trudeau said on Monday that "it is no longer a lawful protest at a disagreement over government policy. It is now an illegal occupation. It's time for people to go home."

The act gives Trudeau a frightening amount of leeway to target individual protesters. The prime minister said he will not send in the military, but "instead threatened to tow away vehicles to keep essential services running; freeze truckers' personal and corporate bank accounts; and suspend the insurance on their rigs," reports the Associated Press.


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