By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York City Police Department has agreed to purge a database of names and addresses of people stopped by police under the NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk program but later cleared of criminal wrongdoing.
The department will scrub the information as part of a settlement ending a lawsuit filed in 2010 in state court by the New York Civil Liberties Union, which announced the agreement on Wednesday.
The settlement applies to people issued a summons or arrested after a police stop but whose cases were dismissed or ended with a fine for a noncriminal violation.
"Though much still needs to be done, this settlement is an important step towards curbing the impact of abusive stop-and-frisk practices," said Christopher Dunn, the NYCLU's associate legal director.
City officials said that a law passed in 2010 prohibiting the NYPD from collecting names for people stopped and then immediately released without a summons or arrest had rendered the database ineffective as an investigative tool.
"Today's settlement is consistent with the 2010 law that the NYPD has been fully compliant with," said city lawyer Janice Casey Silverberg. "The law made the need for the database moot."
Dunn said there have been more than half a million stops that included an arrest or a summons since 2004, when he said the NYPD began retaining people's names in a database for use in future criminal investigations.
The NYPD's stop-and-frisk strategy, in which patrolling officers stop, question and sometimes frisk suspicious individuals in high-crime neighborhoods, has drawn scrutiny from civil liberties groups concerned that the policy disproportionately affects minorities.
A federal judge in Manhattan is weighing whether to declare the tactic unconstitutional after a 10-week civil trial, a move that could usher in a Department of Justice monitor for the NYPD.
The lawsuit settled Wednesday was filed on behalf of two men who were separately stopped by police in the Bronx and Brooklyn. The men each received two summonses that were later dismissed, but their personal information remained in the NYPD's database.
New York state law calls for criminal records to be sealed when a case ends in the defendant's favor, such as a dismissal or an acquittal. In addition, records for defendants convicted of a noncriminal offense, such as a disorderly conduct violation, are also required to be sealed.
The lawsuit claimed the NYPD's database violated that law by retaining information about defendants who were never convicted of a crime.
Under the terms of the settlement, the city made no admission that the NYPD had violated the plaintiffs' rights. The city also paid the NYCLU $10,000 as part of the agreement.
The NYPD will continue to track some non-identifying data, including race, for people who are stopped to allow ongoing monitoring of the stop-and-frisk program.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Lisa Shumaker)