NEW YORK – Gov. David Paterson signed legislation Friday that would stop New York City police from storing the names of hundreds of thousands of people who were stopped and frisked 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.
"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."
Last year alone, the New York Police Department stopped 575,304 people, mostly black and Hispanic men, and recorded their names, addresses and descriptions into an electronic database. The stops are based on a standard of reasonable suspicion, lower than the standard of probable cause needed to justify an arrest. Only about 6 percent of those stopped are arrested.
Critics have said information from such stops are an invasion of privacy and can lead to future police suspicion and surveillance.
Police say the database was instrumental in solving crimes when there is only partial information about possible suspects. NYPD investigators made an arrest in an anti-gay attack in March after learning the first names of the attackers and using the database to find a match for two men who had previously been stopped in the area.
"We do use it the right way," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday of the policy, speaking on his weekly radio show.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly met twice with Paterson in recent weeks to urge him to veto the bill. He told the governor that scores of people who faced no initial charges after a stop-and-frisk had later been arrested for serious crimes, including 17 murders.
"Albany has robbed us of a great crime-fighting tool, one that saved lives," 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."
The city did not immediately say Friday whether it would consider going to court to challenge the law.
Paterson said he had also spoken to 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 Lieberman, 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," Lieberman said. "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."
Sen. Eric Adams, a Brooklyn Democrat and former NYPD captain who sponsored the bill, said the bill would protect innocent people, especially minorities, from being targeted by police.
"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 on to 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.