A Policy Not Worth the Paper Its Written On: Why Further Legislation is Needed to Stop the NYPD’s Continued Use of Paper Records for its Stop and Frisk Database

Daniel Levin, Albany Government Law Review Member

Introduction

“[K]eeping records on innocent people is not the American way,” said New York State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, as he urged Governor David Paterson to sign into law a bill prohibiting the use of an electronic database containing the identities of innocent stop and frisk individuals.[1] On July 16, 2010, Governor Paterson signed that bill into law (S.7945-A/A.11177-A), which amends section 140.50 of the Criminal Procedure Law to prohibit the electronic recording of certain identifying information of a person subjected to temporary questioning or search in a public place.[2] Opponents of the legislation argue that the law makes New Yorkers less safe by letting criminals go free.[3] At the same time, proponents of the legislation argue that it safeguards greater individual freedom and liberty from the government while maintaining the police’s ability to use the same crime-fighting techniques they have deemed effective in policing the streets.[4] While the legislation is certainly a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough in safeguarding individual liberty as the New York City Police Department (hereinafter “NYPD”) has already taken steps to replace their computerized stop and frisk database with a more primitive paper form.[5]

I. Database Origin

On September 6, 2001, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law Bill Number 55 of 2001, which required the NYPD to submit quarterly reports to the City Council containing information about the NYPD’s stop and frisk policies.  In the quarterly reports, the NYPD was required to submit the number of stop, question, or frisks conducted, the breakdown of these stops by race and gender, the number of arrests and summonses resulting from stops, the race and gender of each person arrested or given a summons resulting from a stop, and a categorical reason for each stop, question, or frisk.[6] The law became effective in 2002.[7]

The purpose of the law was to give the City Council greater oversight over the NYPD so that it could address public concerns about policing, specifically whether the NYPD engaged in racial profiling.[8] The Council aimed to determine the effectiveness of the NYPD’s stop and frisks as well as analyze whether there were racial disparities for individuals stopped and frisked, or if race or gender played a factor in an individual being stopped by the police.[9] In order to comply with this directive, the NYPD created a stop-and-frisk electronic database containing the identity of each person stopped, frisked, or questioned by the police.[10]

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