Bensalem catches burglars through DNA database of voluntary swabs

In case you missed it on Sunday, we wrote about a relatively new and controversial DNA database that Bensalem police use to catch low-level criminals. (Use promo code L89U to breach the paywall).

Bucks County's largest department has been amassing its own collection of DNA profiles by simply asking crime suspects for a cheek swab. And most say yes, according to Public Safety Director Fred Harran. 

The database and others like it across the country are designed to catch criminals who often fly under the radar of national and state DNA collections, which contain the genetic material of more hardened felons and sex offenders.

Bensalem has made 100 arrests so far, Harran said. For instance, a Morrisville man said yes to a cheek swab in 2011 when he was suspected -- although never charged -- of stealing from a construction site. A year later, he was arrested after his genetic material matched DNA left behind on the storage shed of a burglarized cemetery. The man pleaded guilty to the crime in May.

The database is controversial because some legal experts charge that police fail to inform suspects that their DNA will end up in a database indefinitely. And suspects are often unaware that they can have their DNA removed from the database because they freely gave it to police.

"We're not tricking anybody," Harran said. "Do they think we're taking their DNA to send them a Christmas card?"