Practices vary from state to state on how long records are kept after innocent persons are stopped by police.
Arizona's controversial immigration law has raised questions about how it would be enforced and just who would be asked to verify whether they're in the country legally. But what would happen to the records about those who were questioned -- especially those who weren't guilty of anything?
Assuming the law eventually gets the go-head from courts, Arizona officers could only ask about documentation after stopping someone for a lawful reason. Police need reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to stop someone on the street. But federal guidelines do not cover how or if states keep records of personal information, even if the person who has been stopped is then allowed to walk away. And practices vary from state to state.
Fred Wilson, director of operations for the National Sheriffs' Association, says electronic databases still aren't very sophisticated at many sheriff and police departments. And the issue of how long records are kept -- and how they're kept -- vary between and within states. "A lot of those protocols are still being worked out," he says.
Officer Chuck Rydzak of the Tucson Police Department says the reasons for stopping people won't change with the immigration law, and that his department does not use the records from each stop in later investigations if the person is innocent.
But the New York City Police Department has faced litigation attacking the number of stops it makes and its record-keeping. Gov. David Paterson signed a bill into law on July 16 that prohibits keeping electronic records of innocent civilians who have been stopped in New York City. This way, the information cannot be used for later investigations.
Chris Dunn, the associate legal director for the NYCLU, says the issue of databases is separate from concerns around why police stop civilians.
"There should be no delusion that fixing the database means fixing stop and frisk," he says.
New York state senator Eric Adams, a Democrat, introduced the bill in the state senate in May. In a press conference announcing the bill, Adams denounced what he called the "bad" type of stop and frisks -- ones motivated by quotas and not law enforcement -- and said, "We are better than that. We are not the northern Arizona."
The controversy in Arizona remains fixed on the justification for the stops, not how the information is archived.
Legal Director Dan Pochoda of the ACLU of Arizona says they haven't asked for database information. But he is convinced that the new immigration law will increase the number of stops -- and therefore the amount of information collected.
(Dana Farrington is a Digital News intern with NPR.)
Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.