United States

Record Number of Innocent New Yorkers Stopped, Interrogated by NYPD

Published by the New York Civil Liberties Union

The NYPD stopped and interrogated more innocent people during the first three months of 2009 than during any three-month period since the Department began collecting data on its troubling stop-and-frisk program. Police made more than 151,000 stops of completely innocent New Yorkers—the overwhelming majority of whom were black and Latino. These innocent people did nothing wrong, but their names and addresses are now stored in a police database.

“In just three months, the NYPD stopped enough totally innocent New Yorkers to fill the new Yankee Stadium three times over. What’s worse is that the disrespect suffered in the stop is not the end of it—these New Yorkers’ personal information is now stored in an NYPD database,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The mayor and the Police Department’s top brass must immediately address this racially-targeted, counterproductive tactic. New Yorkers shouldn’t have to be afraid when they see a police officer walking toward them.”

According to an NYPD report obtained by the NYCLU and released today, police stopped and interrogated New Yorkers 171,094 times between January and March—a record for total stops. Nearly nine-out-of-ten of these stops resulted in no charges or citations. This record number of stops fell disproportionately on the city’s communities of color—89,000 of those stopped were black and 56,000 were Latino, while only 16,000 were white.

Overall, this record number of stops represents a 22 percent increase from the 140,151 stops conducted during the last three months of 2008, and an 18 percent increase from the 145,098 stops conducted during the first three months of 2008—the prior record. If stops continue at this pace, the NYPD will conduct a record 626,767 stops in 2009. In 2008, the current record, police stopped New Yorkers 531,159 times.

Over the past five years, New Yorkers have been subjected to the practice more than two million times—a rate of nearly 1,250 every day.

In a letter sent today to NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the NYCLU expressed deep concern about the blanket use of the stop-and-frisk practice and about the NYPD retention of the name and home address of everyone it stops. Calling the database “a gross violation of privacy,” the NYCLU called on Kelly to end the practice of recording the names and addresses of everyone stopped and to expunge from the database the names and addresses of everyone stopped without being arrested or given a summons as well as the names and addresses of all people who were arrested or given a summons but whose charges were dismissed or otherwise disposed of.

“The NYPD is, in effect, building a massive database of black and brown New Yorkers,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn. “Innocent New Yorkers who are the victims of unjustified police stops should not suffer the further harm of having their personal information kept in an NYPD database, which simply makes them a target for future investigations.”

In the summer of 2007, the NYCLU served the NYPD with a formal legal request to turn over the complete stop-and-frisk database under the state’s Freedom of Information Law. The Department resisted transparency and so, in November 2007, the NYCLU filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court challenging the NYPD. In May of 2008, the NYCLU won that case and received the database in October 2008. The NYCLU is currently analyzing that database and will publish its findings this year.

The NYCLU requested the information to allow for an independent analysis of the Department’s stop-and-frisk practices, which have been the subject of enormous controversy since the 1999 shooting death of Amadou Diallo.

“Every year hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers are stopped, searched and interrogated by the police for doing nothing more than walking down the street,” Lieberman said. “We are deeply concerned about this practice and about racial profiling by the police, and we believe the department must take aggressive measures to address this problem.”

The NYCLU’s concerns about excessive numbers of stops are supported by the RAND Corporation study commissioned by the Department in 2007. That report estimated that, “[e]ven with the most liberal assumptions,” one would expect the NYPD to have “roughly 250,000 to 330,000 stops” each year. Even when measured against the most permissive of standards, the NYPD is on its way to conducting 300,000 more stops than would be expected.

—New York Civil Liberties Union, May 12, 2009