Constituent policy

SF Police Crime Lab Ends Policy Allowing Investigators to Match Rape Victim’s Examination DNA to Unrelated Crimes

The San Francisco police crime lab ended a policy that allowed the DNA profiles of rape victims to be linked to unrelated criminal cases – a recently exposed practice that prompted nationwide rebukes over what was considered a shocking violation of victims’ privacy.

The policy changes, which were announced to lab staff on Friday, came days after District Attorney Chesa Boudin revealed that a suspect in a recent property crime case had been identified through DNA. that she submitted for a rape review in 2016. Boudin dismissed the case, citing potential constitutional violations given how the DNA was collected.

Policy documents reviewed by The Chronicle detailed how the crime lab operated its so-called “quality assurance” database, which contained the DNA profiles of several categories of individuals – including rape victims – and was regularly tested against suspect DNA collected in later criminal cases.

The news that the practice had ended was first reported by USA Todayand was confirmed in emails provided to The Chronicle.

The documents say the practice had been in place for seven years and provide more clarity about the DNA profiles that entered the database.

The quality assurance database has two components, the documents say. One includes “every source and…evidence profile analyzed since tracking began in 2015”, which could include DNA profiles of rape suspects, sexual assault victims, child victims, sexual partners consensual records of rape victims or other people unconnected to a crime whose DNA can be found at a crime scene, according to a San Francisco police spokesperson.

DNA evidence of victims or other non-suspects is collected and stored to separate it from that of the alleged offender.

The second element is a disposal database that contains DNA samples from lab staff, visitors and police, to test for DNA contamination. According to the policy documents, staff members of the crime lab’s DNA unit have access to the full quality assurance database “to perform searches during routine work.”

In an email sent Friday to crime lab staff members, Eleanor Salmon, DNA technical lead, wrote that, effective immediately, if DNA from a victim’s rape kit matches the DNA found at another crime scene, it would not be released outside of the crime lab. Matches will continue to be assessed internally, however, to test for possible contamination, Salmon wrote.

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said in a statement that the revelations last week prompted him to take “immediate action to end any possibility of misuse of victims’ DNA profiles and survivors in the future”.

Boudin’s announcement of the practice last week sparked swift condemnation from sexual assault victim advocates nationwide, who said it would discourage victims from reporting the crimes.

Camille Cooper, vice president of public policy for the National Network on Rape, Abuse and Incest, called the reports “horrific and a gross violation of the survivor’s privacy.”

Boudin called for an immediate end to the practice, calling it “legally and ethically wrong”.

San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen and State Senator Scott Wiener both said they could seek legislation to ban the practice. U.S. Representative Adam Schiff on Tuesday asked FBI Director Christopher Wray to investigate whether federal law enforcement officials could take steps to prevent police from using DNA collected from victims of rape to link them to unrelated crimes.

Scott said he shared Rep. Schiff’s concerns that the practice “could have a chilling effect on reporting sexual assaults.”

“We must never discourage victims or survivors of crime from cooperating with the police,” he said.

Scott said the department is still investigating the underlying case and conducting a full review of DNA policies and practices.

Megan Cassidy is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @meganrcassidy