By Nayaba Arinde, Special to the NNPA from the Amsterdam News –
“People are tried of getting stopped,” Governor David Paterson told the Amsterdam News in an exclusive interview. “It is disturbing that you have parents, grandparents and relatives sitting around the dining table trading stories about being stopped by the police.”
Speaking as the paper was going to press last week, he added that the new legislation signed into law July 14 “means that the personal data of individuals stopped, questioned and frisked will no longer be able to maintained by the police department and used against people who did not do anything wrong and to monitor them as if did.”
In the wake of last year’s record number of 575,304 people stopped and frisked by the NYPD - 87 percent of them being Black or Latino - last week’s historic signing at the governor’s Manhattan office came with lots of fanfare.
But, when the Amsterdam News asked how the community could be assured that the database will truly be discarded, Paterson replied, “That’s a very good question. Nobody has asked me that profound question before. Ask the police department. I would assume that police would comply.”
The police department did not respond to AmNews requests for comment.
“First of all, it’s the law—it’s not a recommendation,” declared State Senator Eric Adams, who introduced the stop and frisk legislation in the senate. “We are making it clear that if they violate the law, they will be in trouble; it would be a very serious action. The commissioner wanted to just do a policy change internally, and we said no because he could just change it or the next commissioner could change it. That’s why we wanted it to be a law.”
The former police officer, who retired a lieutenant before becoming an elected official, revealed that sources in the police department have said they issued an internal memo stating that the database will no longer be used.
“They can keep the data on those who were issued a summons or arrested, but for the majority: These were innocent Americans that they were keeping personal information on. They are only going to keep the data about the ethnicity and the location where a person was stopped to monitor profiling. It’s unfortunate that we have to treat the NYPD like a mischievous child, but we have had to because of what has been going on.”
Asked if he had any response, post-signing, from the NYPD, Paterson said, “I spoke to them, and the mayor disagrees, but Commissioner Kelly was shrill and guaranteed that there will be an increase in murder, rape and robberies. But, he had no evidence—not at all—that the police department has been able use this data in stopping crime.”
Paterson said that statistical and factual distortions are not helpful and that Kelly cited 170 cases in which information “helped solved crimes when, in fact, these were names and addresses of people already in the system.”
Paterson said regarding the police using the database: “Let’s say there was a mugging in the area, they could go to the database, and find someone who fit the description.”
But in reality, with the stop and frisks, Paterson noted only “one out of every 2,000 people had a gun. Over 90 percent of the people stopped were found to be not doing anything at all.”
But once someone’s name and information had been collected and stored, the governor stated that people were open to further scrutiny.
Paterson balked at Commissioner Ray Kelly’s response that folk can’t say they didn’t do anything wrong because they were initially stopped because a police officer had a suspicion that they were doing something wrong.
The governor said that he has asked the Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights to monitor the situation.
Despite the hopefully positive effect on the majority Black and Latino communities who endure the bulk of these unproductive stop and frisks, Paterson said the “biggest beneficiary is the New York City Police Department, who were starting to gain the reputation they had 20 years ago.”
This legislation could prevent a deteriorating police-community relationship.
With a 20-year decline in the crime rate, even the Police Benevolent Association said the database did not help stop crimes, said the governor.
The question about whether or not all the intel in the database will actually be thrown away is a heavy one.
“Nobody has covered that issue,” said Paterson. “Certainly, lawyers that I have known have said that they have gotten information back on their clients, but the data stayed in the system. I can’t monitor the NYPD, but I will assume that the commissioner will comply with the law and that data will be expunged.”
He said it was interesting that “Kelly wondered out loud why people aren’t as upset about crime as being stopped by police.” It’s really no mystery; it is “because the majority of people stopped and frisked are innocent.”
Echoing the cry of community activists over the decades, Paterson stated, “Police practices need to be looked into further.”