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. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 28 Jul 2020 @ 4:06pm

    Now that’s quality journalism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Saint Sniffles, 28 Jul 2020 @ 4:13pm

    Suck it, Pat Lynch

    Really not sure what's going on with that judge, but I'm sure Pat is content that the letter of the law is being followed. Arentcha just, Pattie?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jul 2020 @ 4:50pm

    What's wrong with proPublica???

    Don't they know that just because they're not party to a lawsuit or an injunction it doesn't mean they can just ignore it! Oh the humanity. What about the children (spoiled brats that they are, but enough about the NYPD)?

    Why, if this continues, we might have to start respecting the constitution again! That would never do, the mighty Trump must not be humbled by, you know, doing his job properly.

    Remember, where we are stupid one, we are stupid all!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Pixelation, 28 Jul 2020 @ 5:09pm

    Re: What's wrong with proPublica???

    " where we are stupid one, we are stupid all!"

    If Trump is part of All, we're fucking morons.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. 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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 28 Jul 2020 @ 6:01pm

    Re: Maybe NYPD would benefit...

    Hmm, it's been a while, but I though it was the bottom 10% of businesses, and they weren't fired, they were sold. And I don't think it was every year as if they held 10 businesses they would all be gone in 10 years. I think it was more about businesses that weren't performing at a certain level (as in contribution to profit).

    His point was to better GE's balance sheet, profit and loss statement, and therefore how the company looked to the stock market and investors. Getting rid of employees, in a right sized business, would hurt productivity and not look that good to investors.

    So far as the NYPD is concerned, whose evaluation of the bottom 10% would be used? The union(s) probably have a last hired first fired clause and the bosses already have cozy relationships with the people they are already protecting. Neither scenario would do much to improve the NYPD.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 28 Jul 2020 @ 6:45pm

    Re: the mighty Trump

    Huh? What does Trump have to do with this?

    Cops have been beating people up, and covering up for each other, for a long time.

    Did I miss the connection to Trump somewhere?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    NoahVail (profile), 28 Jul 2020 @ 6:48pm


    that’s quality journalism

    It is indeed. The last time I was this proud of ProPublica's was when they did "Free The Files".

    (backstory: ProPublica went up against entrenched news orgs, who had been forced to disclose how much ad cash they receive from campaigns and dark money groups. To reduce the threat of accountability, (hundreds? of) news orgs released the ad buy data as pdf images. In theory, this could keep it out of easily researched databases.

    ProPublica crowdsourced volunteers to transcribe the pdfs & the public learned just how much political orgs fund campaign news coverage. - hint:It's massively. I'd put the number at about a billion dollars per campaign cycle.)

    Thanks - again - to ProPublica for looking out for the public, in a meaningful way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    DB (profile), 28 Jul 2020 @ 8:27pm

    Re: Maybe NYPD would benefit...

    Jack Welch's approach got a lot of attention at the time.

    One of his ideas was forcing out the bottom 10% of managers every year, and that policy was often propagated downward. During his first five years GE employment dropped by 112,000.

    He said, near the end of his time as CEO, “My success will be determined by how well my successor grows [G.E.] in the next 20 years.” But he had left his successor a disfunctional organization. Managers were extremely risk-averse, especially when it came to internal growth. Many of the successful legacy businesses had been sold off. Others were on the cusp of rapid decline because of the lack of long-term R&D investment. Only the financial side was growing, and that only because every loan, lease and sale could be factored to see the next quarter's gain.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    JoeCool (profile), 29 Jul 2020 @ 1:36am

    Re: Re: the mighty Trump

    It's a joke, and including Trump makes it funny as every joke needs a butt. ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 29 Jul 2020 @ 2:32am

    Re: Re: the mighty Trump

    "Did I miss the connection to Trump somewhere?"

    Other than his stalwart and unflagging defense of police authority at any cost, against any criticism, no. And particularly his love affair with the most outrageous police union representatives.

    It's a sign of the times, I guess, that almost invariably when you find some utterly deplorable people doing utterly deplorable things you'll find POTUS on record as having had their backs in public at some point in time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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