Dear Police: Please stop revealing the DNA discoveries used to solve cold cases

A heartbreaking series of crimes dating back to the 1980s in Indiana was solved recently. It was a cold case which involved the horrific sexual assault, mutilation and murder of children as well as a killer who taunted police. For decades he remained elusive, but this week the alleged perpetrator is behind bars. (WaPo)

On Sunday, investigators from the Fort Wayne Police Department and the Indiana State Police arrested John D. Miller in connection with [8-year-old April Tinsley’s] death. The 59-year-old is scheduled to make his first court appearance Monday morning. According to a probable-cause affidavit filed in Allen County Superior Court, Miller confessed when questioned about Tinsley’s death.

Documents show the arrest was not the result of intense media attention over the years — the case was featured twice on “America’s Most Wanted” as well as a 2016 episode of “Crime Watch Daily” — nor the repeated pleas for information that followed the 30th anniversary of April’s death last April. Once again, the new lead in the cold case is thanks to the dramatic scientific breakthrough pairing forensic DNA with genealogical research.

This is great news for the families and friends of the victims (or at least as close to “great” news as they could ever get) but I do have one request of the nation’s law enforcement agencies regarding these cases.

Please stop talking about them.

Or at least stop talking about the mechanics behind how you broke the case open. Just say that good detective work resulted in an arrest and you’re confident that you’ve brought an evil villain to justice. I understand that law enforcement can and should be justifiably proud of staying on top of the latest technologies available to help them do their jobs. And there’s no question that the press and the public love such stories as well.

But it just seems to me as if we’re going out of our way to dissuade dangerous criminals from ever taking part in these genetic studies. And even if they aren’t doing it themselves, families tend to share that information when they take the tests and receive the results. If someone in deep hiding knows that their siblings have taken the test that’s probably a very viable trigger to have them either go to ground or at least be on the lookout for any renewed curiosity about their crimes.

These stories also add to the already loud chorus of voices urging everyone (including the law-abiding) to avoid Ancestry or 23 & Me out of fear that Big Brother is going to be scooping up their DNA at any moment.

This is a different situation from having the press report that the police are putting surveillance cameras into a particular neighborhood in a city. We actually want that information out there because it just might lead to criminals being a bit more constrained in their actions, much like keeping all the streets lights operational. But the DNA searches aren’t thwarting future crimes. They’re solving ones that already happened. Do we really want to be advertising this everywhere?