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N.Y. law limits stop-and-frisk database

Marc Beja

NEW YORK — Gov. David Paterson signed legislation Friday that eliminates a database of thousands of people stopped and frisked by New York City police without facing charges, calling the practice “not a policy for a democracy.”

Paterson signed the law over vehement objections of New York City’s mayor and police commissioner, who said the city was losing a key crime-fighting tool.

But the governor said the policy that targets criminals won’t be affected by eliminating a database of people who were stopped, then released.

“This law does not in any way tamper with our stop-and-frisk policies,” Paterson said. “What it does is it disallows the use of personal data of innocent people who have not done anything wrong. … That is not a policy for a democracy.”

Critics have said information from such stops, mainly of blacks and Latinos who are innocent, can lead to future police suspicion and surveillance. Police say the database helped to solve crimes, including anti-gay and anti-Hispanic bias attacks.

“Albany has robbed us of a great crime-fighting tool, one that saved lives,” Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in a statement. “Without it, there will be, inevitably, killers and other criminals who won’t be captured as quickly, or perhaps ever.”

Paterson said he had met with Kelly and spoken to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but had not been persuaded that the database protects the city from crime.

“Civil justice, and I think common sense, would suggest that those who are questioned and not even accused of crimes be protected from any further stigma or suspicion,” Paterson said.

He signed the bill at a press conference with the bill’s sponsors and supporters including the city’s public advocate, Bill de Blasio.

“Today’s reform of the stop-and-frisk database reaffirms a basic value of this country. The government cannot keep tabs on people who have done nothing wrong,” de Blasio said.

Donna Liberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, praised Paterson for signing the legislation.

“Innocent people stopped by the police for doing nothing more than going to school, work or the subway should not become permanent criminal suspects,” said Liberman. “By signing this bill, the Paterson administration has put itself on the right side of history and leaves an important legacy in support of civil rights, civil liberties and common sense.”

In his sponsor’s memo, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, D-Brooklyn, said that in 2009, the New York Police Department stopped 574,304 people, nearly 90 percent of them people of color, and nine out of 10 were released without any further legal action. Data show 2.5 million stops since 2005.

Sen. Eric Adams, a Brooklyn Democrat and former NYPD captain who sponsored the bill, said Friday the bill would protect innocent people from being targeted by police, especially minorities.

“Our fear is not to have our sons [be] victims of aggressive criminal behavior, but we also don’t want our children to be victims of aggressive police behavior,” Adams said.

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 police were disproportionately stopping black and Hispanic men. But police also indefinitely hold onto addresses and names of people stopped — information not required by the law.

The bill, which takes effect immediately, would not prohibit police from entering into an electronic database generic identifiers, such as gender, race and location of the stop.

Associated Press writers Tom Hays and Sara Kugler Frazier contributed to this report.