New York City today embraced government secrecy and announced it would appeal a court-order that the NYPD disclose its electronic database detailing police stops of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, most of whom were black and Latino. The New York Civil Liberties Union sued the NYPD to get access to the database and won the case in State Supreme Court in May.

“The NYPD is acting like an ornery child, plugging its fingers in its ears and refusing to listen to the fair and impartial ruling of the judiciary,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. “Our justice system has already rejected this pattern of withholding information from the public, and I have full confidence it will do so again. New Yorkers have a right to know if the NYPD is engaging in racial profiling.”

Last summer, the NYCLU served the NYPD with a formal legal request to turn over the database under the state’s Freedom of Information Law. The department rejected the request at the end of August and denied the NYCLU’s administrative appeal on October 15. In November, the NYCLU filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court challenging the NYPD’s refusal to disclose its database. On May 30, the NYCLU won that case.

The NYCLU requested the information to allow for an independent analysis of the Department’s stop-and-frisk practices, which have been the subject of enormous controversy since the 1999 shooting death of Amadou Diallo. According to printed reports released this spring, New York City police officers stopped more people on the streets during the first three months of 2008 than during any quarter in the six years the Department has reported the data.

Printed reports also show that in 2007, the NYPD stopped about 469,000 New Yorkers – almost 1,300 people every day. Eighty-eight percent were completely innocent. Though they make up only a quarter of the City’s population, more than half of those stopped were black. Another 30 percent were Latino. Though whites make up more than 35 percent of New York City’s population, they were only 11 percent of those stopped. In 2006 and 2007, blacks and Latinos were the target of about 90 percent of the nearly one million stop-and-frisk encounters.
While the printed reports released by the department provide important information, any sophisticated analysis of the role of race in police stops requires access to the database.

“Every year hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers are stopped, searched and interrogated by the police for doing nothing more than walking down the street,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, the lead counsel on the case. “The NYPD has given information about these stops to organizations in California and Michigan. Now it is time for the Department to be held accountable to New Yorkers.”

Supporting the NYCLU’s lawsuit with friend of the court briefs were a group of 21 academics from across the country, the New York City Bar Association and The New York Times.

Serving as co-counsel on the case are Rebecca Bers, Meredith Laitner and Samantha Marks, students from New York University Law School’s Civil Rights Clinic, and Professor Claudia Angelos, who teaches in the clinic.