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2005.04.21 > For Immediate Release
contact: Tim Kaldahl - University Affairs
phone: 402.554.3502 - email: tkaldahl@mail.unomaha.edu

UNO Professor Talks About DNA Sweeps at Meeting of Police Chiefs

Omaha - DNA "sweeps" are an ineffective means of identifying criminal suspects, University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) criminal justice professor Samuel Walker told a meeting of police chiefs in New York City on Thursday, April 21.

Walker addressed the annual meeting of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a professional association of police chiefs, and summarized a report he issued in the fall of 2004 from the UNO Police Professionalism Initiative.  His research found that DNA "sweeps" were effective in only one of 18 cases.

Controversy about DNA "sweeps" arose in Omaha during the summer of 2004 when the Omaha Police Department asked more than 30 African-American men for voluntary DNA samples in an effort to find a serial rapist.

The UNO report defined a DNA "sweep" as police requests for DNA samples from individuals about whom there was no individualized suspicion that they committed the crime under investigation.

DNA "sweeps" have also gained national attention in the recently solved BTK murder cases in Wichita, Kan., and in a 2002 murder that took place near Cape Cod, Mass..  In both cases, local police asked numerous individuals for DNA samples. Arrests were recently made in both cases, but the DNA "sweep" samples did not lead to the arrests.

Walker and Michael Harrington,  a UNO criminal justice graduate student, conducted a national survey of DNA sweeps reported in the media.  They identified a total of 18 cases since the late 1970s.  Only one, in Lawrence, Mass., was solved through DNA sweeps.

The Omaha case that prompted the survey remains unsolved today. The more than 30 DNA samples collected did not identify the perpetrator.

Other critics have argued that DNA "sweeps" violate the Fourth Amendment rights of people who the police ask for DNA samples because of the lack of individualized suspicion, Walker said.

The UNO report is available on the Web site of the UNO Police Professionalism Initiatiative, www.policeaccountability.org. For more information, call (402) 554-3502.

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