Charlottesville DNA dragnet, like others, cited for lack of productivity

A national study released today concludes that DNA sweeps in which police seek voluntary DNA samples from large numbers of persons for the purpose of solving a crime simply do to work. The study, conducted by the Police Professionalism Initiative at the University of Nebraska and entitled Police DNA “Sweeps” Extremely Unproductive, examines the 18 known DNA sweeps conducted in the United States. One of the sweeps collected 2,300 DNA samples. The average sweep involved a few hundred samples.
Of the 18 sweeps, only one led to solving a crime, but in that instance police had limited the number of suspects to 25 based on their employment at a nursing home and their access to the nursing home resident who was the victim of the crime. In the sweep in which 2,300 samples were taken-- and in all other sweeps-- the DNA samples did not help solve the crime.
Included in the study is a recent DNA sweep to find a serial rapist in the Charlottesville area. Charlottesville police took 197 DNA samples from young black men reported to them as acting suspiciously. The Charlottesville incident, like several others cited in the Nebraska study, had racial overtones. One person, a UVA graduate student, was sought out by police for DNA testing simply because he was out late at night.
The Charlottesville sweeps came to a head earlier this year after racial minorities and the ACLU of Virginia complained. In April, police officials announced that they would more carefully screen individuals before seeking DNA samples in the future. Since that time, far fewer, if any, DNA samples have been collected in Charlottesville.
“Last spring, we told the Charlottesville police that that the DNA sweeps violated the right of privacy and that we did not believe they were effective,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. “This report definitively demonstrates that a DNA sweep, in addition to violating privacy rights, is an ineffective investigative tool that wastes time and money while diverting police from serious crime solving.”
“DNA sweeps are the police equivalent trying to find a needle in a haystack,” added Willis. “In the process, police are given license to harass and intimidate innocent people who are not in any manner suspected of committing a crime. It is important to note that these so-called ‘voluntary’ DNA samples are taken after a person has been stopped and questioned by the police. How many people will actually refuse to give a sample under those circumstances?”
A copy of the Nebraska study may be obtained from at or by sending a request to

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022