The new bill barring police from storing the information of innocent people it stops on the street in an electronic database has been a hot topic since it was passed last week; indeed its merits will be discussed for years to come.
The law, sponsored by Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and State Senator Eric Adams, is a good one. They deserve credit for it, as do the many civil rights advocates who pushed for its enactment.
And though right now opinions are mixed among the people it affects most, namely black and Hispanic males (who make up roughly 90 percent of all those stopped and frisked on the street), in the long-run it will be hailed as an important milestone.
Before the law was passed, the phone number, address and other personal information of anyone stopped on the street by police were stored in a giant database packed with millions of entries.
Supporters of the database said it provided police with a crucial crime–fighting tool; detectives could mine the system for valuable leads that would otherwise be lost in the paperwork shuffle.
But critics said the stop-and-frisk method works in theory, but the database in practice represented an invasion of the civil rights of innocent people whose information was stored forever. And they were right.
Imagine emerging from the subway after a long day of work, only to be stopped on the street for police for no apparent reason, other than that you fit a general description of a wanted suspect.
After being stopped, questioned and frisked, police determine you are innocent, and let you go without making an arrest. However, they keep your personal information - just in case.
That’s what happened to nine out of every ten people who were stopped on the street. It made no sense for their information to be stored in the database. Worse, it was a irresponsible invasion of privacy.
The police must have broad powers in New York City, where more than one person each day is murdered and countless other crimes are committed. Without them, effective policing would be impossible.
Still, broad powers can be exploited. When that happens, as was the case here, they must be refined. That was the intent of this bill. Over time, that is what it will accomplish.
What it won’t do is end stop and frisk altogether. That would be a big mistake. And police can still hold onto information in paper form, something that has angered many.
But no legislation is perfect, and this bill is a major step forward.