Appeals Court Rejects New York Police Unions' Attempt To Block Disclosure Of Disciplinary Records

from the your-definitions-of-'irreparable'-and-'harm'-suck-equally dept

A bunch of New York City law enforcement unions have been suing to block the side effects of the repeal of 50-a, an ordinance passed in 1976 that exempted police departments and other agencies (like fire departments) from disclosing information about misconduct to the public.

For more than 40 years, the bad law remained in place. It took nationwide anger of the killing of another black man by a white cop to get it taken off the books. In response, a bunch of unions presiding over the New York City's police and fire departments lawyered up, hoping to continue withholding this information.

The legal battle has reached the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. And the Appeals Court doesn't find the plaintiffs' assertions about "irreparable harm" credible. The unions claim the repeal of 50-a (and the consequent release of disciplinary records) violates agreements they have with the city -- one that says findings in favor of officers/employees will be removed from employees' disciplinary records.

The Appeals Court [PDF] points out that the unions can't just decide the public employees they represent don't have to follow the law.

[T]o the extent that this claim implicates records that must be disclosed under FOIL, the NYPD cannot bargain away its disclosure obligations.

The Appeals Court affirms everything the district court already told the unions. "Irreparable harm" is not only not foreseeable, it's not even remotely credible.

The Unions assert that law enforcement officers will have fewer employment opportunities in the future if records of the allegations against them that prove to be unfounded or unsubstantiated are disclosed, even though each record will reveal the outcome of the investigation. But the District Court noted that future employers were unlikely to be misled by conduct records that contained “dispositional designations” specifying that allegations of misconduct were unsubstantiated, unfounded, or that the accused officer was exonerated. As the District Court also noted, despite evidence that numerous other States make similar records available to the public, the Unions have pointed to no evidence from any jurisdiction that the availability of such records resulted in harm to employment opportunities.

No harm foreseeable there. Unfortunately, that sort of means employers like the NYPD aren't all that selective in their hiring processes. Multiple allegations -- even if they ultimately resulted in exoneration -- should be a red flag. And the NYPD should definitely know this because its internal review process clears bad cops all the time, ensuring they can continue to engage in misconduct without fear of reprisal.

The same goes for the equally wild claim that disclosing these records will result in physical harm to officers.

We also address the Union’s more general assertion of heightened danger and safety risks to police officers. We fully and unequivocally respect the dangers and risks police officers face every day. But we cannot say that the District Court abused its discretion when it determined that the Unions have not sufficiently demonstrated that those dangers and risks are likely to increase because of the City’s planned disclosures. In arriving at that conclusion, we note again that many other States make similar misconduct records at least partially available to the public without any evidence of a resulting increase of danger to police officers.

The unions' argument only makes sense if they are asserting that New York City residents are far more prone to acts of violence targeting law enforcement officers following the release of public records than people living elsewhere in the company. And if that's the argument, it hasn't been preserved for appeal so...

The Appeals Court hands out even more rejection along state law lines. Simply asserting "diminished" employment opportunities on the presupposition of "damaged reputations" is not enough to engage state constitutional protections. There's also nothing in the unions' equal protection assertions since (despite the best efforts of a bunch of idiotic legislators at both state and federal levels) police officers and first responders are not a protected class.

Everything the unions argued is "without merit." That's the final call. (Note: It may not be the final call. But this doesn't look like the sort of the thing the Supreme Court is interested in entertaining.) 50-a is gone. The records can be made public. And if cops think it will hurt them to hand over records showing they've been exonerated will result in harm to themselves and their careers, they're not going to find any sympathy from the courts, much less the general public they've been hiding records from for years.

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Filed Under: appeals court, disciplinary records, foia, foil, new york, nypd, public records, transparency


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  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 24 Feb 2021 @ 12:22pm

    I can think of only one reason anyone fights this hard against accountability: They’re really fucking afraid of people finding out about the actions for which they’ll be held to account.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 24 Feb 2021 @ 12:47pm

    Damning arguments

    Taking their arguments at face value if anything just makes them look worse, because if they want to argue that records of what they've done are not only bad enough to damage their ability to get hired but get members of the public so furious that they'd be willing to attack a cop they're basically arguing that the NYPD is staffed by monsters who have been getting away with atrocities and the only thing protecting them is the public not knowing what they've been doing.

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

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 24 Feb 2021 @ 1:11pm

    'Your honour, if people know the person who assaulted them has a history of racism and assaulting minorities, it'll make it easier for them to pursue legal action! We might have to start firing them rather than sweeping it under the rug and that will make it harder for them to find work later in life! Criminal actions shouldn't have consequences if you're in law enforcement! The laws are there for the plebs!'

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

  • icon
    Nathan F (profile), 24 Feb 2021 @ 1:19pm

    The records might be released.. if they still have them and haven't all or most of all of them been shredded.

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

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 24 Feb 2021 @ 2:13pm

    The unions' argument only makes sense if they are asserting that New York City residents are far more prone to acts of violence

    That might be true if you include the cops who live there.

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

  • icon
    BG (profile), 25 Feb 2021 @ 3:01am

    Who is covering their ass here?

    I suspect this is less about the officers, that shouldn't be permitted protect a wet paper bag from catching fire let alone carry a firearm in public, and more about protecting the higher ranks.

    The higher ranks that regularly exonerate the bad apples on review board. The higher ranks that divert complaints down dead ends so they never reach a review board, etc. The higher ranks that lean on the good, or at least indifferent, apples in the ranks to stay quiet.

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

  • identicon
    Sam, 25 Feb 2021 @ 5:04am

    Perhaps not doing illegal and unconscionable acts would be a way to go. The best way to not have this stuff show up on your personnel record, don't be horrible at your job simply because you carry a gun and a badge. The rest of the world seems pretty good at not being on the wrong side of the law for many years. Imagine actually acting WITHIN the laws they're supposed to be upholding?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2021 @ 2:27am

    in California the blue lies mafia pulled all kinds of crap to keep the new disclosure law from going into effect. so it had to rewritten in crayon so they would understand WE THE PEOPLE have the right to know what is in those records!
    so for NY blue lies mafia to try and do the same, the courts already knew about other states and put a stop to it quick!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2021 @ 2:51am

    now if we could just find that "ACCOUNTABILITY" thing..... I know it is around here somewhere????? we already know that the blue lies mafia doesn't even have a clue about what "ACCOUNTABILITY" even is let alone what it looks like!
    just look at nypd blue lies mafia union pres. lynch. he was fired as a cop and is the only blue lies mafia union pres. that is not a cop anymore. there is another one in the making as another blue lies mafia criminal just got fired and is a piggy union pres. still waiting for the dust to settle on that one! i don't remember where but i know it wasn't NYC and the story came out in the last week or two.

    there needs to be a full discipline record from cop school to grave! and it it needs to be in a national database open to the public!

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


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