Nation - New York Union: Names in stop and frisk database illegal

By Colleen Long

Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- The New York Police Department is illegally keeping the personal information of hundreds of thousands of people stopped, questioned and frisked but not arrested, according to a lawsuit filed last week.

The suit, filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two people who say they were stopped by the police, asks that the names and addresses of people in the database be sealed. According to state law, the records relating to a summons or an arrest must be sealed unless the person involved is convicted or pleads guilty to a misdemeanor or a felony.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly stressed the importance of the database as a crime-fighting tool.

The automated database, believed to be the only one in the country, grew out of a law requiring police to keep details such as age and race on anyone they stop, and it was envisioned as a way to safeguard civil rights.

The law, enacted in 2001, required the police department to turn information over to lawmakers every quarter. It was aimed at uncovering whether the police were disproportionately stopping black and Hispanic men. But police also indefinitely hold on to addresses and names of people stopped -- information not required by the law.

Lawmakers and the NYCLU, which helped draft the database legislation, say they didn't anticipate the police department would use the database as a searchable index of possible crime suspects.

Since 2003, the NYPD has done more than 3 million stops, but the size of the database is unclear because some people are stopped more than once. Clive Lino, who is black and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said he was stopped at least 13 times between February 2008 and August 2009.

Daryl Khan, a former Newsday reporter who covered the police department, is the other named plaintiff in the suit, which was filed in Manhattan state supreme court and seeks class action status. Khan, who is white and of Middle Eastern descent said he was wrongly stopped while riding his bike.

The NYPD has increasingly stopped more people over the years. Last year, 575,304 people, mostly black and Hispanic men, were stopped. In the first quarter of this year, there were about 150,000 people stopped. The stops are based on a standard of reasonable suspicion, lower than the standard of probable cause needed to justify an arrest. Only about 6 percent of the people stopped are arrested.

Some people are just stopped and questioned. Others have their bags or backpacks searched. And sometimes police conduct full pat-downs. Generally, when people are stopped, their names and addresses and the circumstances are recorded by police.

The NYCLU and other civil rights groups are critical of the overall stop-and-frisk policy, saying blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately stopped. The police department maintains the policy plays a major role in reducing crime in the city.

Published: Thu, May 27, 2010