In its continuing bid to secure a full slate of officers’ misconduct records, the New York Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against the NYPD and the Nassau County Police Department to compel the release of even those complaints that resulted in the exoneration of officers.
The NYCLU says the two departments have unlawfully denied access to records that became subject to public disclosure following legislators’ repeal of a state law last year.
'Only a Small Portion'
In a Sept. 30 filing, the organization said the NYPD has obstructed access to records and published only “a very narrow set” of department-substantiated internal disciplinary decisions. Those records “cover only a small portion” of complaints and disciplinary records that should be available to the public, the organization said.
It said the department has so far failed to comply with a Freedom of Information Law request seeking complete records of officers who had misconduct complaints filed against them, regardless of whether those were investigated or adjudicated.
According the suit, the NYPD responded to the request by saying it “is too broad in nature and does not describe a specific document.”
The NYCLU’s suit seeks records of misconduct allegations, including residents’ complaints of sexual misconduct and racial profiling by officers that, until recently, were not subject to investigation by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the NYPD’s outside watchdog agency
“By no means has the NYPD entered a new era of transparency by disclosing only those misconduct complaints that they themselves deemed worthy of prosecution,” said Lupe Aguirre, staff attorney at the NYCLU. “NYPD officers cannot be trusted to investigate and discipline themselves, and New Yorkers have a right to know the substance and outcome of all NYPD complaints.
NYPD: Will Release More
A department spokesman, though, said that the repeal of the law—known as 50-a, for the section of state Civil Rights Law under which it was filed—“does not mean that the Department is now compelled to publish all personnel- related information, but doing so is no longer prohibited by law.”
But Sgt. Edward Riley said older department records, including some “lesser forms of violations,” among them “certain Command Discipline records,” were being scheduled for online publication.
“The decision to launch the NYPD’s publicly available discipline database was made with the goal in mind to make these records as transparent and accessible as possible,” he said in a statement. He added that the department’s website links to the CCRB and the city Law Department, which have information “outside the scope of what the Police Department provides.”
“That being said, we will review the lawsuit if and when we are served,” Sergeant Riley added.
NYCLU: Seek 'Transparency'
Christopher Dunn, the NYCLU’s legal director, said the suit was part of the organization's “ongoing effort” to shed light on the NYPD’s disciplinary process, which its attorneys and others have long contended is opaque and lacks accountability. The NYCLU argues that partial records releases deprive residents of a true measure of officers’ conduct.
“We will continue to work to ensure the repeal of section 50-a leads to actual transparency and public access to documents about police misconduct long withheld from the public,” Mr. Dunn said in a statement.
The NYCLU, together with law firms working pro bono, has filed FOIL requests with 12 police departments statewide and the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to secure better access to those records that since the repeal of 50-a are open to public scrutiny.
A day after filing suit against the NYPD, the NYCLU filed a similar action against the Nassau County Police Department. The NYCLU said that agency has unlawfully denied requests for records of police-misconduct complaints created before 50-a’s repeal in June 2020.
Nassau Police did not return a request for comment.
Law-enforcement agencies and their unions had been united against the repeal of that state law, arguing that discipline records were protected personnel files and that their release would violate collective-bargaining agreements and compromise the safety of officers and their families. Following a series of court actions, a Federal Appeals Court ruled in February that even unsubstantiated complaints against officers were subject to public disclosure.