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]

Continue reading “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”

Being Smart on Crime: Real Reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws

Andrew Dructor, Staff Writer

The election season promised “change” and discussion of “change” has remained relevant as the government continues to look for solutions to put a halt to the economic free-fall. This change has involved federal government bail-outs in order to try and cure mistakes and instances of poor judgment in order to revitalize the economy.  However, at the same time states across the nation are seeking ways to bail themselves out of budget deficits.  The New York Times has noted that that this has led to a broad “trend in which states are trying to cut the costs of being tough on crime” with proposals to abolish the death penalty, release non-violent offenders early,1 and even legalize marijuana.2 Does this mean that these states are choosing to be soft on crime, or are these economic struggles and budget deficits propelling a bigger change in the debate over whether some of these crime-fighting costs are actually achieving their intended purposes and, if not, how can we improve the criminal justice system?

Currently, New York finds itself in the same dilemma as other states across the country.  It has a $14 billion budget shortage and is also in the midst of exploring changes to its criminal justice system.  This reform has focused on the Rockefeller Drug Laws which mandate prison sentences based on the weight of the drug involved.3 The law came into existence in 1973 in order to halt the rising drug use and crime rate by “frighten[ing] drug users out of their habit and drug dealers out of their trade.”4 As Sheldon Silver, Speaker of the New York State Assembly, explains, “For instance, a person convicted of possessing one-half ounce of a narcotic drug must be sentenced to prison, no questions asked. Possession of 2 ounces of methamphetamine is punishable by mandatory imprisonment of up to 10 years.”5 On the other hand, an individual convicted of assault that causes “serious injury to another person” faces a sentence of two to seven years.6 The mandatory sentences require prison unless a prosecutor gives consent to send the drug abuser to a treatment program.7 The law allows no judicial discretion in the sentencing process.

However, many studies dispute whether the law actually achieves its purpose. “Most scientific evidence,” the scholars observe, “suggests that there is little if any relationship between fluctuations in crime rates and incarceration rates”8 and “according to government sources, illicit drugs are more easily accessible than ever.”9 One individual convicted under the Rockefeller Drug Laws commented in the New York Times that being sent away with murderers and other criminals failed to scare him away from drugs.  “It’s not a deterrent, because they come out bitter, angry, confused, and they just go back where they left off,” he said of prison. “There, you’re so busy thinking about survival that you don’t have time to make changes in yourself.”10 Fortunately, he was able to end his drug dependency following prison by attending drug treatment programs.11 Continue reading “Being Smart on Crime: Real Reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws”