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
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own