Kensington anger over ‘stop-n-swabs’

In the tense months leading to Antonio Rodriguez’s arrest, Kensington residents were on edge. Employing scientific advances after fielding tips, police asked many “persons of interest” to sign a waiver submitting to DNA swabbing.

At least 225 “stop-and-swab” samples were collected, but the constitutionality is currently under investigation after a man complained he’d been bullied into providing a sample, officials said yesterday. “If officers did something wrong, or were pressuring people, I want to get to the bottom of it,” Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Everett Gillison said.

The case in question involves Enrique Sanchez, a 23-year-old volunteer with Crime Victims Services/Youth At Risk Program who was stopped after attending a Mayor Michael Nutter press conference in Kensington. He claims he was coerced into signing a waiver at risk of being taken into custody.

“I don’t think they’re dirty cops, just wrongfully aggressive,” said Sanchez’s brother-in-law Greg Bucceroni, a neighborhood victims’ advocate, who’s fielded 36 complaints. “A good police officer, doing it in a professional fashion, could say ‘Listen, we believe you may or may not be connected. Can we talk to you?’ That’s not the way it’s done in Kensington.”

Bucceroni wants the city to apologize and scrub unjustified stops from the record because “they’re persons of interest for life now.”

Sara Mullen, associate director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said they’re looking into it after receiving “a few calls.” William Johnson, executive director of the city Police Advisory Commission, is trying to determine whether there are more cases. “If so, we need to talk to those people,” he said.

SVU?chief: Swabs key

Capt. John Darby of the Special Victims Unit said he considers reacting to a single complaint to be a positive, but noted that “we’re certainly not on a fishing expedition out there.”

“Videos and composite sketches are great tools, but at SVU we live by DNA and forensic retrieval,” he said, noting swabs were also taken in the Fairmount Park rapist investigation. Before doing so, “we’ve built reasonable suspicion. As part of the process, we can’t force a swab from you, but there’s a heightened need for investigation of those who might decline. We’re not just stopping anybody out there.”

Darby added that police involved in the complaint of one swab out of hundreds are “a couple of my best people.”

“Any avenue the commissioner can take that offers the public the comfort of being able to come forward and make a report is a good thing,” he said.

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