April 19, 2005
British DNA Crime Database Ups Crime Clearance Rates

In Britain more crimes are being solved using a national database of DNA sequences of criminals and suspected criminals.

One year on from legislation permitting police in England and Wales to collect and retain DNA samples from those arrested, a New Scientist investigation of the effect this is having on policing has revealed new data on the law's consequences.

Launched on 10 April 1995, NDNAD holds DNA profiles from almost 3 million people (see "DNA database: the facts"). "From an investigator's perspective it's a powerful tool," says Paul Stickler of Sussex police. In a typical month, the database churns out hits for 15 murders, 45 rapes and sexual offences and 2500 car, theft and drug crimes. With DNA evidence, the average crime clear-up rate increases from 24 per cent to 43 per cent.

That is a dramatic increase in clearance rates. With a total population of 60 million people in Britain the 3 million DNA database entries make up about 5 percent of that population. Future database growth will no doubt make it an even more effective tool for catching criminals.

DNA samples from suspects from previous investigations are proving fertile ground for discovering perpetrators of other crimes.

Since it began in 2001, the practice of retaining profiles of suspects subsequently acquitted has added 175,000 extra profiles to the database. Of those, more than 7000 have since been connected with crimes, including 68 murders, 38 attempted murders and 116 rapes.

The trend toward keeping biological samples and not just the DNA profiles produced from those samples is driven by expectations of future advances in DNA testing techniques. As DNA testing becomes more powerful the original samples from crime scenes which do not match with samples of known individuals in the database will be reanalysed in order to derive more information about race, ethnicity, eye color, skin color, hair color, height, facial features, and other features. Existing DNA analysis techniques already can provide quite a lot of racial and ethnic information. As larger numbers of DNA locations are deciphered more characteristics will be inferrable from DNA sequences.

Privacy advocates who oppose DNA databases have had little success in slowing their spread. In November 2004 liberal California passed Proposition 69 to collect samples for a DNA database not just for felons but starting in 2009 anyone arrested for a felony crime. The proposition received a 62% Yes vote.

In California Even those arrested for misdemeanors qualify for DNA sample collection if they have a previous felony conviction.

Collection from Convicted/Adjudicated Felony Offenders: Who qualifies for DNA collection following conviction or adjudication?

a) Any person (adult or juvenile) who is newly convicted/adjudicated of a felony offense, or who is newly convicted/adjudicated of a misdemeanor or infraction offense but has a prior felony (California or equivalent out-of-state crime) of record; (b) Any person (adult or juvenile) currently in custody or on probation, parole, or any other supervised release after conviction for any felony offense committed prior to November 3, 2004; (c) Any person (adult or juvenile) currently on probation or any other supervised release for any offense with a prior felony (California or equivalent out-of-state crime) of record.


Collection from Arrestees: Which arrestees are subject to DNA collection?

Until January 1, 2009, only adults arrested on or after November 3, 2004 for murder, voluntary manslaughter, a felony PC 290 sex offense, or an attempt to commit one of those crimes are subject to DNA collection under Proposition 69. Beginning in 2009, adults arrested for any felony offense are subject to DNA collection. Note: Prior felony convictions do not trigger DNA collection from any arrestees. The arrestee provision is not retroactive.

California's DNA database will become much more effective as a gradually growing percentage of all criminals in California are placed in it. The British experience suggests that arrest rates for crimes will go up dramatically as the California database grows.

Expect to see fearful parents putting their babies and young children into DNA databases in order to find their children again should the children be kidnapped and raised as someone else's child. While that sort of kidnapping is a rare event the perception is widespread that the risks are much higher.

Also, we shouldn't be too surprised to see at least some countries start collecting DNA samples from visitors from other countries both for crime investigation and anti-terrorism efforts. The CIA and other intelligence agencies might even surreptitiously collect DNA samples along with fingerprints and other biometric data from suspected terrorists.

Update: I forgot to mention one really obvious way criminal DNA databases will be used once we know a lot more about the human genome: Criminals will be genetically classified by their propensity to commit various types of crimes. Suppose a murder crime scene has no DNA evidence. Well, the local police will be able to look at the DNA sequences of all criminals they have on file and see which ones have genetic sequences that most strongly correlate with the propensity to commit murder. Then likely murderers can be placed at the top of suspect lists and receive greater attention.

The ability to predict a criminal's likely development from, say, a drug dealer or car thief into a murderer or rapist will be considered in sentencing decisions. Perhaps not all jurisidictions will allow it. But I bet most will.

The identification of genes that contribute to criminal behavior will also ignite a debate about reproductive rights. Should couples who are, genetically speaking, "bad to the bone" be allowed to reproduce? I expect that some governments and populations will say "No".

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 April 19 01:03 AM  Biotech Privacy

rhodan said at April 19, 2005 1:19 AM:

There is identity theft already.

How long before DNA theft ?

toby said at April 19, 2005 4:44 PM:

The only data that's being stored at the moment is the result of a digest of collected DNA run out on a gel. There's no way now, or in the near future, that there's going to be enough useful data collected by criminal investigations to point the finger at a genetic signature for criminal behaviour.

It's also worth noting that the bigger your database, the higher the false positive rate, and the easier it becomes to challenge DNA evidence in court. Successful DNA doping attacks have already been demonstrated, so you can bet that there are criminals (admittedly not many yet, but that will change) that have already modified their behaviour. In light of all this, DNA evidence should only be used either to prove innocence, or in conjunction with other compelling evidence of guilt.

Patrick said at April 19, 2005 11:02 PM:

Don't dismiss criminals changing their behaviour! There are two very important aspects of this:

1.Taking care to leave no DNA requires forethought, intelligence and self control. Exactly the qualities missing in most criminals.

2.To the extent that criminals DO change, this means that rapists (of all sorts) will be wearing condoms. This is inherently a good thing! Rape can only be made even worse by a resulting pregnancy or STD. Likewise other criminals will be taking care to be clean and neat in their crimes. This doesn't stop the crime, but does remove some of the more gruesome side effects. eg. Excrement smeared about in break-ins, disease transfer in assaults...

rhodan said at April 20, 2005 7:37 AM:

Criminals changing their behaviour might be not for the best :
- yes, a professional burglar will not pooh on your carpet for fun, but will burn the entire house to be sure to clear the scene (instead of just wearing gloves),
- a rapist will sink his victim in an acid tank (I am sure that wearing a condom is not top priority for rapists. Anyway, even with a condom, he will not be sure of not leaving hair, saliva or skin under his victim's nails).

I am all for technological advance to catch criminals but for the moment all the improvement of investigation methods has fail to slow down the crimes' rate. Better find innovative (and societal) responses.

Randall Parker said at April 20, 2005 10:59 AM:


Crime rates can be lowered. It just requires doubling or tripling the number of people in prison. The United States did this and reversed the crime doubling that we experienced from 1964 to 1974 that was caused by the creation of the welfare state.

Jody said at April 20, 2005 11:03 AM:

Rhodan: I think you're making some fundamental errors in your analysis.

First, just because substitutions exist, doesn't mean that an activity will continue at the same level when the original choice is taken away. In both of your examples, there's significant added costs with the substitution. For instance, in your rape example, that limits rapes to rapists who a) have a vat of acid just laying around and b) encounter their victims close to vat or have some means of conveying their victim to their vat. Additionally, because of the graduated sentencing system, an abduction + rape + murder crime will get you the death penalty in most states, but a rape will get you a sentence of 20 or so years (frequently less).

In general, if a substitution is more costly, the activity will become less prevalent.

Second, crime rates have been falling across the board. While attributable to many factors such as stricter sentencing, an improved economy, more money spent on law enforcement, and yes improved detective work aided by technology (gets criminals off the street, many of whom are career criminals), I think it is inaccurate to say that improvements in investigation techniques have failed to lower crime rates. Cause they've gone down, dramatically.

Randall Parker said at April 20, 2005 12:32 PM:


Rhodan may not be in America. To be clear: Yes, the US managed to lower its crime rates. European countries could choose to follow America's example and implement the same sets of policies that the US pursued. If advanced investigative techiques identify a criminal and yet he gets a very short sentence then the advanced techniques are not going to help much.

France's problem is immigration. Over half of the people in French prisons are from immigrant groups, either first generation or descendants. France needs to stop letting in the Arabs and Africans and deport anyone from those places who is not a citizen. France also needs to build more prisons.

Jody said at April 20, 2005 2:07 PM:

What? There's a world outside of the US?

Clicking on Rhodan's name leads to a French yahoo mail account, so your suggestions with respect to France's crime problem should be more relevant to Rhodan...

Eric said at April 20, 2005 9:18 PM:

I'm of the opinion that the current problem with DNA databases is not that too many samples are being retained after police investigations, but that not enough samples are in the databases. The best way to eliminate false positive hits is to put everyone's samples into the database. Then we can tell direclty how many false positives we have. Secondly, I would suggest that the identification associated with a DNA fingerprint should be blinded to police until they can get a search warrant to break the blind. With that safety feature, I don't see any problem with ubiquitous DNA sampling.

Randall Parker said at April 20, 2005 9:52 PM:


My take is that once a positive match is made what needs to be done is to test a far larger number of sites on the DNA in the suspect and from the crime site. Select multiple sites on every chromosome. That avoids the need for collecting everyone's DNA - which will be widely resisted and very difficult to carry out anyway.

Haplotype research results will help in determining useful sites.

Patrick said at April 21, 2005 12:54 AM:

Technological cures for crime? Western Australia made it compulsory for all cars to be fitted with approved engine immobilisers. Car thefts plunged by nearly 80% over the next year and have stayed there.

Sure a clever thief can get around them. But remember the number one rule in the cops handbook, "All criminals are stupid." Or at least all the ones that the cops catch up with.

The smart ones are both a tiny %, are too busy stealling whole companies to bother about your car, and the cops never catch them and so don't get to meet a smart crook.

rhodan said at April 21, 2005 7:53 AM:

Well, I have not a french yahoo mail, but a freedom yahoo mail ;o)

Yes, Randall, throwing back Arab and African people to the sea is one way to deal with the problem ;o/

We have plenty of solutions to deal with criminals : jailing them, deporting them, killing them, frozen them for the future (oups, sorry for the power outage in our criminals' storage unit, ouch that's starting to smell here), ...
The main problem is deciding on what kind of society you want to live.

Crime is mainly the result of the imbalance of economic wealth (or perceived wealth) and thus will be hard to deal with. Because imbalance creates innovation. A nation of (mainly) rich folks does not innovate. Have you heard new ideas or technologies from Switzerland recently for instance ? On the other hand, daily life in Switzerland is pleasant.
Economically unbalanced (and liberal) societies encourage people to elevate the wealth. Most of them will choose to try to do so by their work. But you have to accept that a fraction will try by other (criminal) means.

Eric said at April 22, 2005 10:18 AM:

Randall, you're quite possibly right. But I'm thinking biometric IDs today, DNA fingerprint IDs tomorrow. We just need the DNA equivalent of those airport finger-print scanners.

Tj Green said at April 27, 2005 11:30 AM:

Psychopaths are responsible for most serious crimes,and I would place eighty percent of prisoners as borderline psychopaths. It is not just the weak link between anxiety and prohibited acts,but psychopaths are egocentric risk takers. Men who take risks are less attractive to women,so our species selects against psychopathy. A loss of anxiety and fear(conscience),and a loss of empathy,should be seen as a disability. Putting psychopaths in prison,and demanding they feel remorse,is like demanding the blind see or the deaf hear. There are many that believe that psychopathy is a treatable/curable condition. Let us hope they are right,then there would be no need of a criminal DNA database. We could learn much more about our species if we had a global DNA database.

jon doe said at November 6, 2005 7:54 AM:

as an ex-con [clean for 14 years since release] I feel I should point out a few facts :

1. many crimes are spontaneous, and it is this spur-of-the-moment approach [along with drunkenness, drug abuse] rather than stupidity which causes them to ignore aspects which can lead to subsequent arrest. Rather than acting in a condescending manner to those who commit crimes, you should think yourselves lucky there aren't more 'serious' criminals walking the streets.
2. you all seem to be lumping "criminals" together in one great big lump. those who commit 'crimes' [such a wide variety of human behaviour to fit under one heading, from tax-evasion through fraud to murder] are not one type of person, and such a simplistic attitude will not serve you well.
3. comments such as "the problem of crime in France is mostly caused by immigrants" are not only ignorant, but in my country [UK] would be viewed as race-hate, and be themselves crimes.
4. "Criminals will be genetically classified by their propensity to commit various types of crimes." - remind me never to visit the US! Americans must be showing their genetic propensity towards utter stupidity for allowing such laws to exist. We are ALL capable of committing [and many of us have the urges to commit] acts which at times could be considered "crimes". We also have willpower, and can override our genetic encoding.

I hope you all continue having a fun life, and have no bad thoughts in your minds - because that's the next area to be controlled by your government...

Randall Parker said at November 6, 2005 8:55 AM:

jon doe,

In France 70% of the criminals in jails are Muslims. So, yes, dumb immigrants really do greatly increase crime rate.

Not everyone can override their genetic coding. Some people are more genetically determined than others. Dumber people are far more likely to act on impulses. Yes, many crimes are spontaneous. The criminals do not stop to think about the risks and consequences. But not everyone has an equal ability to consider consequences.

TheIrishRight said at November 15, 2005 9:17 AM:

I am Irish and we are about to pass laws to enable the setting up of a National DNA database. This will be a wonderful tool in the detection and even prevention of crime. However, we are going to go one better than you Americans.

We are going to take samples from the dead.


This will allow those criminals, who think they have escaped justice, to be brought before our courts and tried. We won't have to build any more jails or incur the expense of paying more jailors. We will try the dead for their crimes, find them guilty and sentence them to death. Even the most minor of crimes, when tried posthumously, will carry the death penalty. This penalty will run concurrent with any sentences that they are already serving. The improvement in our crime solving statistics will be immense! Sure and if the dead are innocent won't they return to defend themselves?

Another measure that we are introducing is the ability to enforce mass DNA collections on the word of a senior police officer (in Ireland we call them Gardai and they are all wonderful upright, honest individuals). This will be a marvelous tool in race relations in Ireland. Sure and everyone knows that it is the poor and the immigrant classes that are guilty of every crime in the book so we can quickly get all of them onto our database. Our police won't have to worry about getting permission from the judiciary, that would take forever.

There are four other things that I am hoping will also be enacted by our lawmakers and I have lobbied my Senator to have them included, these are :-

1. The taking of DNA samples from every entrant into this country. Except white Americans whom we all know do not commit any crime, and besides we don't want to discourage them as they have lots of money.
2. The taking of DNA samples from the unborn. When science has advanced sufficiently we will be able to terminate any pregnancies of individuals who would have a tendency to commit crime.
3. The taking of DNA samples from all police, politicians, lawyers, priests, vicars, preachers and judges. This is purely a defensive measure to show how equitable the legislation will be, as we all know that none of these people would ever think of committing a crime.
4. The implantation of an RFID chip in everyone who is being DNA sampled at the same time, so that we will know where to find them.

Please withold my email address but if you want I will send a DNA profile.

anonymous said at March 8, 2006 10:25 AM:

Few of you seem to know very much about basic psychology. The worst kinds of crimes, mostly violent crimes, are committed by people with egosyntonic pychological disorders. Sociopaths, psychos, etc. Punishments for crime DO NOT DETER THEM. Setting a death penalty for PUNCHING people will not deter them, they do not stop and think, gee, if I kill my neighbor and eat his liver, they might sentence me to death. These are not the thoughts that cross their minds. Furthermore, some of you need to get off of your happy-crime-free-future-high and read some George Orwell, (1984) some Ray Bradbury (Farenheit 451), some Ayn Rand (Anthem) and any other such text that might, for a moment, give you some kind of insight into who the real criminals are. Why dont you google the american senate and see HOW MANY OF THEM ARE CONVICTED FELONS!

Luther Blisset said at November 30, 2009 7:28 PM:

randal parker said:
"Crime rates can be lowered. It just requires doubling or tripling the number of people in prison. The United States did this and reversed the crime doubling that we experienced from 1964 to 1974 that was caused by the creation of the welfare state."

Yet Canada experienced the same drop without massive incarceration or increasing the number of police. So those two factors alone seem unlikely to have caused the decline.

This tough-guy talk about genetic-coding, welfare states and 'dumb immigrants' may play well to half-bright rightists but you'd barely pass my Intro to Criminology class. Ethnicity, genes, economics, upbringing and technology are all relevant factors in examining crime stats, but don't use them to prop up your pet ideology.

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