Governor David Paterson signed a bill Friday making major changes to the New York City Police Departments so-called "stop and frisk" database.
The new law will prevent police from keeping a database of names and descriptions of people who are stopped but not charged with a crime. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, there are millions of names in the database.
Under the law, police will no longer be able to compile a list of people they stop and frisk that fit the description in a recent crime if there are no supporting witnesses. The NYPD can still stop and frisk suspects, but the bill’s sponsors believe the NYPD will reduce the frequency of its use and expunge the old list of names.
"It disallows the use of personal data from innocent people who have not done anything wrong," said the governor. "They may be suspicious, they may be thought to be future threats, but that is not a policy for democracy. Maybe that might work in Bosnia, maybe that might work in Somalia, maybe it would have worked in the Soviet Union or 1984, but we can’t allow it to happen here."
State lawmakers who pushed the bill through said current stop-and-frisk practices are unfair because police are far more likely to stop young black and Hispanic men than any other group.
Civil rights advocates had criticized the current law because they say it violates privacy.
It strikes a perfect balance between public safety and a healthy respect for civil liberties, said the bills sponsor, State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries.
Paterson acknowledged fears that rampant crime might increase, but he said police must have a convincing protocol to demonstrate that keeping a database is absolutely necessary. He insisted the NYPD has proven that police can fight crime adequately and the database is not needed.
The governor went to great lengths to counter the arguments from Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg that crime will go up without the database. In an
earlier statement, Kelly had said Albany is robbing police of a great crime-fighting tool that saves lives adding that killers and other criminals will not be captured as a result.
"Opponents of the bill are in neighborhoods where crime is high and we’re trying high to desperately protect the people who live in those communities," argued Bloomberg on his weekly radio show. "And they’ve just taken away one of the tools."
The governor said the procedure makes a mockery of the Constitution, and that when he met with Kelly on two occasions the commissioner showed statistics that were flawed.
"I don’t know where Commissioner Kelly is basing his evidence," said the governor.
More than 50,000 of the recorded names are from incident that took place within an eight-block area in Brownsville, Brooklyn that has only 14,000 residents.
Residents there said they are relieved that the data can no longer be compiled. Nearly every young man NY1 spoke with in the neighborhood said they had been stopped and frisked.
"I was riding my bike in the street and the police stopped me for no apparent reason," said one Brownsville resident. "I asked what they were charging me with and they didn’t have an answer. Then one of the cops started writing on a piece of paper. I asked if he was giving me a ticket and he said no, he was just taking my name. I’m used to it. It always happens. Why would you take my name? My number? My address?"
"Man, I can’t even count it on my hands. It’s just one of those things that become normal behavior on behalf of the police but the anger and disappointment never goes away," said activist Jesus Gonzalez of Make The Road New York.
A New York Times study also found that across the city, six percent of stop and frisk incidents actually resulted in arrests. In high stop-and-frisk area of Brownsville, the occurrences of arrests were less than one percent.