New York ACLU sues NYPD over field investigation database

New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit to stop the New York City Police Department from keeping information on people who were detained during field inquiry encounters, but later cleared of criminal charges or had their charges downgraded to a violation.

The NYPD, like many police departments across the country, collect a database of individuals stopped in field Inquiry, or “Terry stop” situations. Departments see this information as an invaluable tool, providing quick access to data that can solve crimes and save lives.

According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, however, the database represents an unconstitutional cyberwarehouse of names, addresses, descriptions, and other identifying characteristics of millions of New Yorkers, most of them minorities, who have been stopped by the police on city streets but found innocent of any wrongdoing. According to the lawsuit, for those who fall in that category, state law mandates that their records be sealed.

According to the New York Times, quoting the NYACLU, last year there were more than 575,000 stops in New York City, and roughly three million since 2004. Approximately 90 percent leading to no arrest and no summons for the person stopped.

The NYACLU claims that for those who are stopped but neither arrested nor given a summons, their names should also be kept out of the database. However, it has no legal claim about that in the lawsuit and would need to pursue a change in state law.

“Innocent New Yorkers who are the victims of unjustified police stops should not suffer the further injustice of having their personal information stored indefinitely in a sprawling N.Y.P.D. database,” Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the civil liberties group, said in a statement. “With this database, the N.Y.P.D. is turning innocent black and Latino New Yorkers into criminal suspects.”

The NYPD argues that the stops are an essential crime fighting tool that, as Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly wrote to the City Council last April, has “played a major role in the reduction of crime in New York City.” Kelly went on to say, “I can only tell you that that database has proven to be invaluable.” He said that investigators used information from the database “on some high-profile bias cases.”

“It is extremely useful to our detectives, in doing investigations, so we’ll see what the papers say,” he said.

Asked about the group’s assertion that state law forbids the names from being kept in cases where the arrests are thrown out or the case adjudicated favorably, Mr. Kelly said again that he would have to see the court papers before commenting.

Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman, has said that the stop-and-frisks have not only led directly to arrests, they have also contributed to a safer climate in the city, although he acknowledged that there was no way to measure its effect. And he has argued that there was a direct correlation between the ethnicity of those stopped and those who commit crime in the city. For instance, 55 percent of stops in 2009 involved black people, and 66 percent of violent crimes involved suspects described as black, the police said.

But others question such logic. First, they argue that there is no proof the streets stops have put a significant dent in crime, since the biggest crime drops were logged before the practice mushroomed so significantly.

And Jeffrey A. Fagan, a professor of law at Columbia University, who has studied the numbers, said that crime complaints for 2009 show that although blacks made up 15 percent of suspects in all crimes and 32 percent of suspects in all violent crimes, a suspect’s race is known only 29 percent of the time.

“The N.Y.P.D. reports the data on suspect race only in cases where they know the race of the suspect, which leaves out 7 out of 10 crimes where we don’t know the race of the suspect,” Mr. Fagan said.

The civil liberties group’s lawsuit names two individuals who represent a class-action suit. One, Daryl Khan, 35, a former freelance reporter for The New York Times who later went on to work as a police correspondent for Newsday, was stopped in October 2009 for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk in Brooklyn.

He received two violations – one for the bicycle and one for disorderly conduct – that were later dismissed, yet Mr. Khan’s name is presumably in the database, the suit alleges.

The second plaintiff, Clive Lino, 29, who works at a youth facility upstate, said he had been stopped at least 13 times since February 2008. At least some of those interactions led to summonses or violations that have since been dismissed or disposed of through a fine, and thus “entirely sealable,” said Christopher T. Dunn, the associate legal director of the civil liberties group.

-Information obtained from NY Times Article

About Attorney John J. MacLaughlan

John MacLaughlan is Massachusetts licensed attorney as well as a Boston police officer. John is currently assigned to the Youth Violence Strike Force (Gang Unit). He is a graduate of the Massachusetts School of Law with a concentration in Labor Law. He holds a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell as well as a Bachelors Degree in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. John has taught Defensive Tactics, Firearms, Use of Force, Applied Patrol Procedures, and Police Response to Active Shooters to sworn police officers and police academy recruits. Prior to becoming a Boston Police Officer, John served for 9 years as a police officer in Lowell, where he was a member of the Police Dive Team and Patrol Rifle Team.
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