The San Francisco Police Department immediately will start reviewing its DNA collection practices and policies after the city’s top prosecutor accused it of using a law enforcement database with the DNA of rape and sexual assault victims to search for and identify possible suspects in unrelated investigations, its chief said Monday.
The pledge followed San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s claim that the police department’s crime lab tries to identify crime suspects by searching a database of DNA evidence that contains DNA collected from rape and sexual assault victims, but Boudin has not provided specific evidence to support his claim.
Boudin said at a news conference Tuesday that he had only recently become aware of a case in which a woman accused of a property crime had been matched to DNA obtained in a 2016 rape kit, but he declined to provide more detail. He did not specify whether the woman had been a victim or an alleged assailant in the 2016 case.
Boudin said conversations with leadership of the SFPD crime lab “suggest that this is a routine practice not only in San Francisco but at other crime labs across the state.”
“In other words, what we understand is that crime labs that collect and process DNA from survivors of sexual assault, do not limit the use of that DNA to the sexual assault case. Instead, they build a database with it,” the prosecutor told reporters.
Boudin said there is no mention in forms given to patients submitting rape kits that the “DNA submitted in this process can be used for purposes unrelated to the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault.
Boudin condemned the practice Monday as “legally and ethically wrong” and said he’s committed to working with law enforcement partners to end it.
“Rapes and sexual assault are violent, dehumanizing, and traumatic,” Boudin said in a statement. “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.”
“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,” said Boudin, who faces a June recall election and has been sparring with police over use-of-force investigations.
The police department’s “existing DNA collection policies have been legally vetted and conform with state and national forensic standards,” San Francisco Police Chief William Scott said Monday in a statement. Still, the department will begin reviewing how it handles victims’ DNA in light of Boudin’s claims, he said.
“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.