During interactions with the police, people in Juneau with prior convictions could be asked to provide a DNA sample.
“They do a cheek swab, is typically how that’s done,” said Lt. Krag Campbell from the Juneau Police Department. “We try to minimize any interruption in the person’s day. And we can collect that very quickly and let the person go on about their business.”
It’s part of a broader effort to help Gov. Mike Dunleavy make good on a plan announced last year to reduce the backlog of missing DNA evidence across the state.
That announcement came after the Anchorage Daily News reported that many police departments were not collecting DNA samples they were required to after arrests for certain crimes — and some departments did not even know they should have been.
There were more than 20,000 missing samples at the time of Dunleavy’s announcement. The state says that has made it harder to solve violent crimes like sexual assault.
The DNA collection requirement, which was introduced in 1995, at first required police to collect samples from anyone convicted of a crime against a person. The list of qualifying offenses has expanded since then, and now police are supposed to collect samples after arrests — not just convictions — for felonies and some misdemeanors.
That has caused the ACLU of Alaska to raise privacy concerns.
“Our DNA can reveal some of the most personal and private information that we have,” said the ACLU’s Megan Edge. “There’s a growing risk that the information being collected and is being used against us, or without our consent.”
Edge also said that DNA should be obtained “in the least obtrusive means possible.”
Austin McDaniel, a spokesperson from the state’s Department of Public Safety, said the department first wants to collect samples from people with a qualifying conviction — that’s just under half of the backlog. The rest are people with qualifying arrests.
As of July 4, law enforcement had collected 1,318 samples, according to the department.
McDaniel said the department has flagged people they want to collect DNA samples from, and their names could come up through a records check during any kind of contact with police, including traffic stops.
“If that individual was to have contact with law enforcement, for any other purpose, [flags] would alert that law enforcement officer, that that person did lawfully owe DNA, and that officer would need to work to collect that DNA at that time,” McDaniel said.
Campbell from the Juneau Police Department said that giving a sample is mandatory for people who’ve been convicted of qualifying offenses. If someone refuses, Juneau police report that to the state, which may pursue charges.
In January, the state asked law enforcement across Alaska to participate. Campbell said that at this time, Juneau police are only using the state’s flagged files to know if someone owes DNA.
But McDaniel said state troopers are working more actively to collect samples.
“The Alaska State Troopers are proactively seeking individuals that owe DNA with a qualifying conviction, and our focus is currently on individuals that were convicted of a violent crime or sex offense,” he said.
Megan Edge said the ACLU of Alaska is monitoring the issue, and that people can reach out to them if they have concerns.