NYCLU, victims’ families call for better data on police activity

Gazette photo by Jamie Fandl
Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, who was choked to death by an NYPD officer in 2014, addressed reporters and legislators about the need for the STAT Act. This bill would require police to collect demographic data on those they detain or arrest.

Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of activist groups and community organizers from across the state, held a press conference Tuesday at the state Capitol in an effort to raise awareness for a bill that would require police departments to collect data on the people they stop, frisk, detain or arrest.

Currently, there are no federal or state requirements to collect and report such data, meaning there is no public accounting of routine police activity.

The STAT Act (A.5946/S.147) would require demographic information be gathered by police departments and reported to the chief administrator of the courts — from misdemeanors to the number of people killed during police encounters

“We did FOIA request to law enforcement agencies across the state,” said Brandon Holmes, criminal justice organizer for the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Through FOIA requests we were unable to obtain this information from a majority of police departments.”

The way that Freedom of Information Act requests work, agencies that receive requests are only required to provide information that they already gather and use. Since there is no legislation on the books in New York requiring that demographic information is collected for misdemeanor offenses or arrest-related deaths, departments are not required to provide statistics like this when they receive a FOIA request.

“This bill is pure transparency,” said the primary sponsor, Assemblyman Joseph Lentol. “In this age that we live in, we need to have information in order to know how to police.”

Lentol, D-Brooklyn, is a long time champion for criminal justice reform, having just helped in the Legislature’s successful effort to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18.

“This bill isn’t to punish anybody; it isn’t to accuse anybody of anything,” continued Lentol. “Just give us the information. Make it transparent.”

The 2015 Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended in its final report that law enforcement agencies should “collect, maintain, and analyze demographic data on all detentions (stops, frisks, searches, summonses and arrests).” These are all instances covered by the STAT act.

Two parents of people killed by police officers also spoke at the event in Albany on Tuesday.

Both Hawa Bah, mother of Mohamed Bah, who was killed during an interaction with the NYPD in 2012, and Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, who was choked to death by an NYPD officer in 2014, addressed reporters and legislators about the need for this bill.

“Almost three years ago to the day, my son was killed by the NYPD,” said Gwen Carr “Since then, I believe there have been more killings to the same effect that my son went through, but there is no data to support it.

“I feel that we have to have transparency from the police department so that when these things happen, we at least have an even playing ground so we can see the misconduct,” added Carr.

The Assembly bill has advanced to a third reading and the Senate bill has been in the Codes Committee since January 4, the first day of session.