Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries today joined Senator Eric Adams and New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman to introduce state legislation that would protect New Yorkers’ privacy and due process rights by barring police departments from keeping computer databases of innocent people who are stopped, questioned or frisked by police officers.
Assemblyman Jeffries (D-57th AD), announced the bill at a press conference while flanked by several state and city legislators and representatives of the NYCLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights and community advocates.
“We applaud Assemblyman Jeffries and his colleagues in the Legislature for sponsoring this important bill to protect the privacy and due process rights of New Yorkers,” said NYCLU Executive Director Lieberman. “This legislation will fix a major problem in New York City, where millions of innocent blacks and Latinos who are the victims of unjustified police stops suffer the added injustice of having their personal information stored indefinitely in a sprawling NYPD database, making them permanent targets for criminal investigation.”
The bill targets the NYPD’s practice of maintaining a computer database containing the names, addresses and other personal information of every individual who is stopped, questioned and frisked by NYPD officers, including the overwhelming majority of people who are stopped but are totally innocent – never arrested or issued a summons. It would amend state Criminal Procedure Law to prohibit police departments from storing in a computer database the personal information of individuals who have been stopped and/or frisked by police and released without any further legal action.
The bill would allow police to keep electronic databases of generic information about stop-and-frisk encounters, such as the gender and race of individuals stopped, and the location of the stops. This data is necessary to independently analyze the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk activity and identify whether officers are engaging in a pattern of racial profiling.
“We live in a democracy where individual civil liberties should be respected, not a police state where big brother is constantly watching,” said Assemblyman Jeffries, lead sponsor of the bill. “There is no compelling reason for the NYPD to keep personal information about law-abiding New Yorkers – the majority of whom are black and Latino – that could subject them to future surveillance and criminal suspicion. Since the NYPD will not end this practice, the state legislature must step in to protect to people we serve.”
“The NYPD maintains a database of people who have been stopped, questioned, and frisked, even if those persons are innocent of any wrongdoing,” said Senator Adams (D-20th SD), sponsor of a supporting bill in the State Senate. “This is an unconstitutional, un-American invasion of privacy. People of color are especially victimized. What is the intrinsic value of a program under which fewer than six percent of those stopped are arrested and fewer than two percent are found to be carrying weapons? The police must desist from maintaining information on individuals arrested after street stops but cleared subsequently of criminal charges. The police must purge their current database of the names of innocents.”
The legislation complements a lawsuit the NYCLU filed last Wednesday challenging the NYPD’s refusal to clear its stop-and-frisk database of individuals who were stopped by police, arrested or issued a summons, and subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing. The lawsuit maintains that this practice violates the state’s sealing statute.
“Our lawsuit and this bill share a common purpose – preventing innocent people from becoming criminal suspects and subjects of police surveillance because they were walking while black or brown,” Lieberman said. “It’s a shame that legislation and litigation are necessary to put a stop to this unjust and unnecessary practice.”
Since 2004, the NYPD has stopped and interrogated people nearly 3 million times, and the names and addresses of those stopped have been entered into the department’s database, regardless of whether the person had done anything wrong. Last year, NYPD officers stopped and questioned or frisked people more than 575,000 times, the most ever. Nearly nine out of 10 of those stopped and questioned by police last year were neither arrested nor issued a summons. And more than 80 percent were black or Latino.
In March, following prolonged advocacy by the NYCLU, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr., the chairman of the Public Safety Committee, wrote to NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly criticizing the practice of using the database to conduct criminal investigations and urging the department to end the practice. Echoing the NYCLU’s arguments, the lawmakers argued that using the database for investigations “raises significant privacy-right concerns.”