Sometimes it is hard to know who to believe. For years, the New York City Police Department insisted that it was not illegally saving kids’ fingerprints. As many of our readers undoubtedly know, state law requires law enforcement authorities – including NYPD – to destroy fingerprints collected from arrested juveniles.
As it turns out, NYPD ignored the law and illegally maintained a juvenile fingerprint database of tens of thousands of prints. Of course, many of those who were arrested were not found guilty of any crime.
NYPD had engaged in a years-long dispute with the Legal Aid Society, but five years ago two attorneys from the group learned that NYPD had taken a client’s fingerprints in an earlier arrest and then violated state law by storing the prints on an NYPD server.
The lawyers knew the teen’s record should have been purged (the earlier arrest was never prosecuted) and that his fingerprints were accessible to the police department. For nearly a year they were told there was no juvenile fingerprint database, only to be informed that the prints were “sealed.”
The Family Court Act allows law enforcement officials to take juvenile fingerprints in cases involving specific offenses, and then must turn them over to the New York Division of Criminal Justice Service (DCJS) in most situations.
When DCIS was contacted, the agency discovered it had been unlawfully retaining juvenile fingerprints, but to its credit, DCIS informed NYPD that 5,000 records had to be destroyed.
In March 2017, NYPD claimed to have purged the illegally maintained fingerprints, but it wasn’t until last year that the department actually updated its policy.
The Legal Aid Society says it took six years and a pair of lawsuits to get the department to admit “that it had, in fact, been retaining juvenile delinquency fingerprints.”
The illegal retention of the prints illustrates why so many city residents are right to question NYPD claims made in arrests, hearings and trials. People want to know who to believe and right now, the New York City Police Department is not high on the list.