By Donna Lieberman
Gov. Paterson is considering a bill that would end the NYPD's practice of keeping a vast computer database of the names and personal information of innocent people who were unjustly stopped, questioned or frisked by police officers.
He should sign it without delay.
With a pen stroke, the governor can pull the plug on this virtual police lineup of millions of completely innocent black and Latino New Yorkers, and take an important stand for everyone's privacy and due process rights.
Every day, law-abiding people get stopped and frisked by police in New York City. The vast majority of these stops occur in low-income communities of color. 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 broke any law.
Last year, police stopped people 575,304 times - a rate of 1,576 stops per day. Nearly nine out of 10 people stopped were black or Latino. About 88 percent were neither arrested nor issued a summons - meaning they were innocent. A gun - the ostensible reason for the stop-and-frisk regime - was found in less than 0.2 percent of all stops.
In an eight-block area of Brownsville, Brooklyn, which has one of the city's highest stop-and-frisk rates, a full 99 percent of 52,000 police stops over the past four years targeted black New Yorkers. Less than 1 percent of the stops ended in arrest, and a gun was found in 0.0005 percent of the stops. That is an unbelievably poor yield rate for such an intrusive, wasteful and humiliating tactic.
For a young, black teenager, a police stop is rarely a benign encounter. Indeed, 24 percent of stops involve the use of force.
But the stops themselves are only half of the problem here. Innocent people subjected to police stops should not become permanent crime suspects by having their names, addresses and other personal information stored indefinitely in an NYPD database.
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) and state Sen. Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn), recognizing this injustice, sponsored legislation that has passed both houses and now sits on the governor's desk. The bill would prohibit the police from entering into an electronic database the personal information - such as name, Social Security number and address - of innocent individuals who are stopped by the police and released without further legal action.
Mayor Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly have urged the governor to veto the bill. They argue that keeping a vast database of innocent people is vital to maintaining law and order. It's a weak argument.
The NYPD's detectives are professionals who can rely on good police practices, not a database of innocent people, to solve crimes. The city's violent crime rate plummeted throughout the 1990s, before the NYPD launched its stop-and-frisk database. It's unlikely that depriving police of the database would trigger a surge in crime. Besides, the best crimefighting tactics target criminals, not innocent residents.
Excessive use of stop-and-frisk is creating a climate of distrust and disrespect between black New Yorkers and the police. In many communities, residents are at risk of being stopped and questioned by police officers every time they step outside. Each trip to work, the subway or the store can result in an unpleasant encounter with law enforcement for no good reason.
Vulnerable communities need good policing. But a policy that is both ineffective and hurts the long-term relationship between the police and the people of the city is counterproductive.
By shutting down the stop-and-frisk database, Paterson will demonstrate that, unlike Bloomberg, he is unwilling to give the NYPD a pass on this racially biased and counterproductive policy.
He will champion privacy, justice and common sense.
Lieberman is executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.