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Law enforcement, ACLU disagree over merits of DNA taken during arrests

Law enforcement, ACLU disagree over merits of DNA taken during arrests

By Matt Montgomery. CREATED Apr 17, 2012 - UPDATED: Apr 17, 2012

MILWAUKEE- Governor Walker's proposal to take DNA samples from subjects in some felony and serious sex-related cases to submit DNA upon arrest is causing some controversy in Wisconsin. 

Twenty-five states and the federal government collect DNA from suspects upon arrest. Under Wisconsin law, suspects don't have to give up DNA until they're convicted or investigators obtain a warrant to seize it.

Brian O'Keefe of Wisconsin's Department of Justice told Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Wisconsin's Afternoon News the sooner they can get their hands on DNA, the better.  "The fact that we can get it at arrest helps us as law enforcement officials identify who the perpetrators of the crimes are," said O'Keefe.  "If you're found to be innocent of anything, you can go through the system and get your DNA taken back out of the system."

Chris Ahmuty, the executive director of Wisconsin's ACLU told Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Wisconsin's Afternoon News that the ACLU has "serious problems" with this proposal.

Ahmuty argued that collecting DNA from innocent people does very little to make society safer.  He added that the effectiveness of DNA databases isn't by the number of known profiles, but by the effectiveness of profiles collected from crime scenes.

He challenged arguments that this proposal would simplify and be an efficient tool for law enforcement by saying, " Not sure how expanding the DNA collection process would help that."  He believes this proposal would create a "logistic nightmare" for law enforcement to keep up with the collecting of samples and keeping the chain command in tact.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke believes the proposal would advance law enforcement tactics.  He is on board with the idea and believes a law should be in place for taking DNA samples during certain types of sexual assault, homicides and other serious crimes upon arrest.

Clarke noted some of the resistance he faces is from people who consider the proposal to be unconstitutional.  Clarke told Wisconsin's Afternoon News that in the US vs Kincade case, it allows law enforcement to take DNA samples in certain felony crimes upon arrest.  The proposal is a states' rights issue and he hopes Wisconsin becomes the 26th state in the country to have that type of law on the books.

He believes that some sort of the law will pass, but he isn't sure what exactly would pass through the legislature. He said he is open to debate on the safeguards that would need to be in place that protect citizen's rights while still satisfying law enforcements desires for advanced technology.