The LAPD's unique method for finding and arresting Lonnie David Franklin, Jr, is called familial DNA tracing -- using DNA from a crime scene to find a brother, uncle or son of a perpetrator if you can't find the perpetrator himself. Although Franklin's DNA wasn't in a massive California felon database, his son's was. Detectives then drew a family tree and narrowed it down to Franklin. Then they took refuse after he'd gone to a pizza parlor and matched his DNA to the crime scenes. He's been charged with 10 murders, and investigators are examining a host of other currently unsolved murders to see if he can be connected.
Civil libertarians raise some interesting questions about the use of the familial DNA method.
This morning's New York Times looks at the issue. (As it happens, we played phone tag with the ACLU of Southern California yesterday but never connected.)
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The story notes that district attorneys and police (not surprisingly) believe it's a vital tool (now codified as policy in California and Colorado). Indeed, Chief Charlie Beck advocated familial DNA yesterday in his press conference.
Civil libertarians raise privacy concerns.
"I can imagine lots of African-American families would think it is not fair to put a disproportionate number of black families under permanent genetic surveillance," said Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University who has written about this issue.
The reality, however, is that in California at least, this debate is probably settled, as "law-and-order" types will use the Grim Sleeper as a cudgel against politicians. Elected officials who might be sympathetic to these privacy concerns will slink away, as they so often do.