Governor David A. Paterson today signed into law A.11177-A/S.7945-A, or the “Stop and Frisk” legislation, which prohibits the retention, in an electronic database, the personal information of individuals who are stopped, questioned and frisked by police, but are not charged with a crime or violation.
The “stop, question and frisk” technique is used when a police officer reasonably suspects that an individual has committed or is about to commit a misdemeanor or felony. While this law does not prohibit the use of that technique, it ends the practice of storing the personal information that is collected in the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) database. The bill applies only to stops in New York City.
“In a democracy there are times when safety and liberty find themselves in conflict. From the Alien and Sedition Acts to the Japanese internment camps during WWII to the Patriot Act, we have experienced moments where liberty took a back seat. And each time, hindsight made our errors clear,” Governor Paterson said. “Today, we have an opportunity to set the scales of safety and liberty in balance before we lose something we can’t get back. We will continue to work together-citizens, civic leaders, and law enforcement officers-to make New York the safest and most free city in America.”
Currently, the NYPD retains personal information to be used, if applicable, in further investigations. Under this new law, personally identifiable information – such as names, addresses and social security numbers – will be prohibited from being entered into an electronic database for those individuals who have been stopped and questioned, frisked, or both, and released without any further legal action. This bill will not prevent police from entering generic information such as the gender or race of a suspect, or the location of a stop. Additionally, the bill does not prevent the use of the stop-and-frisk technique, which is legal and constitutional, where the officer reasonably suspects that the person stopped has committed or is about to commit a felony or a misdemeanor as defined in the penal law.
Data compiled by the NYPD indicates that the vast majority of those stopped since 2005 have been black or Hispanic. Additional data shows that in 2008, 88 percent of the individuals stopped were released without further action. It is not unreasonable that these individuals could be targeted in future investigations even though no evidence of wrongdoing was found during the initial stop that warranted further legal action.
“There is a principle – which is compatible with the presumption of innocence, and is deeply ingrained in our sense of justice – that individuals wrongly accused of a crime should suffer neither stigma nor adverse consequences by virtue of an arrest or criminal accusation not resulting in conviction,” Governor Paterson continued.
This principle is reflected in a provision of the Criminal Procedure Law that was adopted by the State Legislature in 1976, and is currently set forth as Section 160.50 of the Criminal Procedure Law. That provision calls for the sealing of the criminal records of individuals accused of a crime in circumstances where the criminal charges are dismissed or the criminal proceeding is otherwise terminated in favor of the accused. The law signed by Governor Paterson today is entirely consistent with the principles of fairness and justice that inform Criminal Procedure Law §160.50.
“Those accused of a crime are permitted to have their records sealed upon the dismissal of the charges. Therefore, simple justice as well as common sense suggest that those questioned by police and not even accused of a crime should not be subjected to perpetual suspicion,” Governor Paterson concluded.