Justin Fenton in London: Britain's use of DNA is light years ahead

In the latest instalment of our crime reporter's job-swap with his counterpart at 'The Baltimore Sun', the combustible relationship between politicians and the police force in the Maryland city comes under the microscope

London's police stations could offer a view of the future of American policing – if the political will is there to make it happen.

Touring a police station in Brixton, I was shown a tiny room with a machine the size of a refrigerator that takes fingerprints from criminal suspects. This room was also where police collected DNA samples from everyone who passes through.

DNA collection is expanding in America; in the state of Maryland, Governor Martin O'Malley just recently pushed through legislation to broaden DNA collection capabilities to include individuals charged with crimes of violence, 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree burglary or attempting these crimes.

But this is still a long way from Britain where you don't need to be charged with an offence for your DNA to be taken and you can end up on the database even if you're never found guilty of a crime.

When Mr O'Malley proposed the extension (previously you had to be convicted of a crime to have your DNA taken) there was fierce opposition: the American Civil Liberties Union, the legislature's black caucus, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People criticised the initiative, with one black politician calling it "high-tech (racial) profiling".

More than 46,000 samples have been uploaded since the bill passed, used to make 155 arrests, including 15 for homicides and 76 for sexual assaults. In Britain, 4.5 million people are on the database

Then there is CCTV. Upstairs in Brixton two officers sat at computers, with three flat screen televisions in front of them. One was tuned to "The X-factor", but the others were scanning the wide array of CCTV cameras set up around the area. Use of cameras is also expanding in America. In Baltimore specifically, police have "blue light cameras" that flash to make their presence known, and others that can't be viewed live.

But the number of live cameras is increasing, with the private networks being integrated into a central system viewed from a room downtown called The Atrium. Officials I've spoken to seem lukewarm on the effectiveness.

I've written about homicide suspects tracked in real time fleeing the scene who were apprehended thanks to people manning the cameras, though there's also been instances where the video was used against police to contradict a story, or wasn't as good as advertised and swayed a jury away from the prosecutor's version of the events.

Use of CCTV is largely in its infancy, with cities beefing up their networks, and to the average citizen the idea of being constantly monitored remains a foreign, and to some, chilling concept.

I was also intrigued by the drug testing and counselling that is imposed upon arrest. Baltimore's steep drug problem could benefit from counselling that is made part of bail restrictions here – then again, it's hard to imagine that the public would entrust our police with such a task, and the thought of law enforcement adding drug treatment to its heavy workload would seem unreasonable to police.

Tell us what you think of crime in the UK. Email us your experiences at copy@independent.co.uk

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Film director Martin Scorsese
film
Life and Style
life
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballI have never seen the point of lambasting the fourth official, writes Paul Scholes
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee