ProPublica Releases NYPD Discipline Records Its Union Thought It Had Talked A Court Into Keeping Secret

from the lololololoooooooooooool dept

Forty-five years after a law was passed in New York allowing public agencies to withhold employees' disciplinary records from the public, it was finally taken off the books by the state's legislature. The law -- known by its statute number "50-a" -- hadn't really been an obstacle to the limited transparency begrudgingly extended by the NYPD until the department suddenly decided it was no longer interested in sharing information about disciplined officers with journalists.

The decision to start following the letter of the law occurred in 2016. Four years later, the state legislature erased it, making these records accessible again. The Police Benevolent Association (PBA) -- one of two NYPD unions -- sued to block the release of records created by the city's Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB). The PBA secured a temporary restraining order earlier this month, blocking the release of these records. The federal judge also forbade the ACLU from releasing documents it had already obtained until the PBA's appeal has been addressed.

Here's the strange thing: the New York branch of the ACLU isn't a party to this suit. The PBA sued the city and mayor over the records. The ACLU is going to fight the bizarre order from Judge Katherine Polk Failla. But ProPublica also has a copy of these records. And it's not going to bother with speaking to Judge Failla. After all, it's not a party to this lawsuit either. The temporary restraining order the PBA obtained is permanently worthless.

Today, we are making this information public and, with it, providing an unprecedented picture of civilians’ complaints of abuse by NYPD officers as well as the limits of the current system that is supposed to hold officers accountable. We’ve published a database that lets you search the police complaints so you can see the information for yourself. Data experts can also download the data.

The database doesn't include everything obtained from the CCRB. It only includes information on officers who've had at least one substantiated allegation against them. Even so, the data set includes 4,000 officers, more than 10% of the NYPD's workforce.

There are more caveats as well, but they don't make the NYPD look any better. The data set is further limited by the CCRB's reach, which has been deliberately limited by the NYPD itself.

Investigators are often not able to reach conclusions on cases, in significant part because they must rely on the NYPD to hand over evidence, such as footage from body-worn cameras. Often, the department doesn’t do so, despite a legal duty to cooperate with CCRB investigations.

On top of that, the term "exonerate" is used very loosely by the CCRB. In some cases, the CCRB was able to substantiate claims of abuse but found that the abusive acts were actually permitted by the NYPD's lax guidelines on force deployment.

Even with all the limitations, it's still possible to detect patterns of abusive behavior by certain officers. As ProPublica notes, more than 300 officers have at least five substantiated allegations. A small group of officers are apparently angling for union leadership positions.

Thirty-four officers have had 40 or more allegations against them.

This release by ProPublica is a major step towards the transparency the NYPD has spent years fighting. It provides some insight into the NYPD's disciplinary issues. While the records may only cover a small percentage of the total force, the high number of substantiated allegations against a number of still-employed officers makes it clear it takes an incredible amount of abuse before one of New York's finest finds themselves out of a job. As ProPublica notes, you're more likely to end up out of a job if you expose an officer's record of abuse. Compare the fate of the leaker to that of the uniformed killer of Eric Garner:

The city investigator who revealed the existence of the officer’s record was forced to resign in 2017; the officer himself wasn’t fired until 2019.

The best part of this is that the records are now public and there isn't anything the PBA -- or the NYPD officers it represents -- can do about it. This release was probably inevitable, what with the repeal of 50-a. But rather than having to sit through rounds and rounds of motions and appeals, the public has access to records the NYPD would have never released on its own.

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Filed Under: ccrb, discipline records, free speech, journalism, nypd
Companies: aclu, propublica

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  1. identicon
    Bruce C., 28 Jul 2020 @ 5:47pm

    Maybe NYPD would benefit...

    from Jack Welch's approach at GE: The bottom 10% of employees, no matter how good, lose their jobs. The method isn't sustainable long term because eventually the people you hire are worse than the people you fire, or you run out of employees, but it's perfect for a situation like this.

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