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EPS apologizes for releasing DNA phenotyping composite sketch of Black sexual assault suspect


The Edmonton Police Service has apologized for releasing a composite sketch of a Black man in an attempt to solve a 2019 sexual assault.

The image was generated by a technology company in Virginia from the assailant’s DNA using a technique called phenotyping.

EPS said Tuesday that it had never used phenotyping before, but that Calgary and Saskatoon police have used it in the past.

Police justified releasing the image because of the violent nature of the assault.

“It was a vicious assault. Random stranger assault. And the survivor deserves justice, as well as the public," Det. Colleen Maynes, the officer in charge of the file, told reporters Tuesday morning.

Criticism of the use of phenotyping came swiftly.

“The technology doesn’t provide useful information beyond the stereotype,” Joshua Stein, Georgetown University post doctoral research fellow, told CTV News Edmonton on Tuesday.

“It gives the EPS a justification for surveilling any person they get a tip about and collecting discarded DNA on any person they get a tip about. That’s incredibly dangerous. That’s a recipe for straightforward racial profiling, straightforward violation of charter of rights.”

On Thursday, the head of the EPS sexual assault division acknowleged the criticism and apologized for releasing the image.

“The stigmatization of racialized community and criminalizing them with a broad photo like that,” Enyinnah Okere, chief operating officer of the community safety and well-being bureau of EPS, said.

“I think there’s an understanding that for the brutality of the crime, this is something we do need to investigate, but the difference between the intention and the impact is kind of why we’re here right now.”

He also addressed concerns about the legitimacy of the science.

“We did recognize that this is something that’s emerging in terms of the science and we have seen that there was success in other jurisdictions both in Canada and the United States in terms of stimulating leads and that was really the balance that we weighed when we made this decision.”

Okere added that EPS would be removing the image from its website and social media, and reviewing internal processes to ensure the appropriate tools are in place to better inform decisions going forward.

This is a developing story; more information to come. Top Stories

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