Monday, November 27, 2006

Should we really be collecting DNA from yet-to-be-victims?

It seems that there is a rising popularity in parents collecting their children's DNA. I'm a bit skeptical about this. Especially the reasoning, News reports about child abductions and television shows such as "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" are helping drive the interest in keeeping genetic records that could be used to identify remains, hair or blood.

Okay, I won't argue that the media loves to focus on kidnappings (especially if the victims are pretty blondes), and I myself am a big fan of CSI. But c'mon. Are we going to let a media obsession and a TV show affect how we live our daily lives to this degree? What are people telling their children as they swab the insides of their mouths? "Don't worry, honey, this is only in case a bad man takes you from us. You know, just in case." That would have scared the hell out of me as a child! "But, Daddy! Are bad men after me? Can I sleep with you tonight?"

Of course, a couple of paragraphs down is this little gem, Missing kids found murdered or those who are never heard from make up only about 2 percent of the 850,000 kids who are reported missing every year, he said. Most children are found within several days or come home on their own., ultimatley making the DNA samples useless in all but 2% of the cases. And even in those cases, will hair from their brushes not do just fine? Or saliva from any letters they have closed? Or, hell, what about that spoon they used this morning eating cereal? Take one step into my home and you'll find more samples of my DNA than you'll know what to do with!

Of course, there is money to be made. The kits are distributed by private companies, police stations, orthodontists and others. Most cost from $5 to $60, Nance said, but some are provided for free. (bold mine). Yes, you got that right. We have found yet another way to sell the impression of safety, or better yet, preparedness.

Joe Polski, chief operations officer for the International Association for Identification, said he would not use the kits but he would not discourage them. "The chances are so slim that it's questionable in my mind if it's worth the work to have it," he said. "Parents would be far better off to pay attention to what their kids are doing, who they are hanging around with."

See now, this guy is making some sense to me. Kidnappings, compared with the overall population, are a pretty rare happening. A mass collection of children's DNA will largely have no use to law enforcement. Granted, I'm sure that there will be cases here and there that will find use for it, but like I said above, why can't the police just collect it when it is needed, ya know, from the victim's home, which should be chock full of samples. Why waste the time, money, and energy on something that can be easily done on a case-by-case need by the right people at the right time?

Now, this statement really blew my mind, "It allows law enforcement to use the DNA for tracking where the child has been." How, pray tell, is DNA going to be used for tracking? Without an eye witness seeing the kidnapped victim, how will law enforcement know where to take examples for DNA testing? If, say, my neighbor's kid is kidnapped, are the police going to wipe down every surface in the city in hopes that they can find matching samples to track where the child is being taken? That can be very expensive and time comsuming, especially as there is no guarantee that it will actually help in finding the victim.

I am a big fan of using DNA for solving crimes of any type, but I don't see how collecting the DNA of thousands of yet-to-be-victims is going to help. When I was a child (not so long ago), it was quite popular to take your kids to be fingerprinted for this same reason. My mom wasted no time in adding my fingerprints to that collection. Now there is a card somewhere with a picture that no longer looks anything like me and my fingerprints that, as an adult, I'd rather not be out there. I'd prefer to keep my prints to myself until the law decides that I no longer have that choice (due to my committing a crime), but my mother, scared that something bad might happen to me, took that choice away from me before it was my choice to have.

I would also prefer to keep my DNA to myself until I lose that right, and luckily my mom did not have the option of giving it out to some database. I have the feeling that some of these kids will feel the same way when they grow up, but it will already be too late, because their parents took that choice from them in the name of preparedness.

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