Politicians are trying to release NYPD disciplinary records – but at least for now, common sense prevails

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NEW YORK, NY – The long-awaited release of the NYPD disciplinary records of officers has been delayed this week.

A state judge granted a request from police, fire, and corrections unions to block the release of those records until Federal Judge Katherine Failla of the Southern District reviews the matter.

Governor Cuomo’s administration was supposed to release a police disciplinary database from the Civilian Complaint Review Board and one police disciplinary database from the NYPD.  The release of records is mandated by a state law .

This matter has been on-going since 2016. The public safety unions argued that only substantiated complaints against officers ought to be made public and not unsubstantiated misconduct allegations.

This is contrary to the state’s recent repeal of New York Civil Rights Law section 50-a. In this repeal, legislation passed to make public all complaints against officers in addition to transcripts and final dispositions of disciplinary proceedings.

By blocking this change, police transparency advocates say it’s allowing for the shielding of many records from scrutiny.

The City’s Law Department, led by James Johson, did not contest the request for delay by the unions until they figured out that State Supreme Court Judge, Carol Edmead, had no authority over the matter. It was then discovered that matter would be moved to a federal court.

The city filed for the change of venue after Judge Edmead issued an order delaying the release of the records.  

Judge Edmead told City attorney Rebecca Quinn:

“I mean, quite honestly, taking no position, the issue is a critical issue to the petitioners/plaintiffs and in abundance of caution on their behalf they are looking for nothing to happen, slip through, while they’re waiting to go to federal court and I understand that.

“And if you were accurate with respect to what came first, I would have to comply with that, but in light of the fact that this Court’s order, which was granted the interim stay, preceded the Notice of Removal in compliance with rules and guidelines, the order of this court stands.”

The repeal of 50-a mandates police departments across the state of New York to release all data on disciplinary actions with redactions to protect the private information of the officers like home addresses.

Records on “technical infractions” only are to be withheld. State statute defines technical infractions as:

“Solely related to the enforcement of administrative departmental rules that (a) do not involve interactions with members of the public, (b) are not of public concern, and (c) are not otherwise connected to such person’s investigative, enforcement, training, supervision, or reporting responsibilities.” 

Gothamist news reported that an “unsubstantiated” complaint in the CCRB’s database means the allegation was not proven by the agency, not that they were exonerated. There is no clear understanding how NYPD determines whether a complaint can be “substantiated” or not.

Hank Sheinkopf, spokesperson for police unions, wrote in a text message:

“The lawsuit rightfully contends that due process demands that mere allegations with no finding of misconduct have no place in the public domain.”

Legal Director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, Christopher Dunn, said:

“Police unions are capitalizing on the fact that these departments almost uniformly fail to find misconduct. Not because it doesn’t exist, but because they don’t take it seriously. The delay is a temporary setback.”

The NYCLU has requested to file an amicus brief to speed up the release of the records. Federal Court Judge Failla is reviewing the case now.

Dunn explained:

“We’re going to be able to start investigating whether the failure to substantiate complaints reflects problems with investigations, versus problems with police department cooperation, versus the possibility that the complaint is invalid.

“The disciplinary systems are so ineffective, that no surprise, virtually all complaints of misconduct are not found to be substantiated when the police department is doing [the investigation] itself, and that’s a whole part of the problem.”

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Here’s Law Enforcement Today’s original report on the repeal of 50-a.
As cities and states around the nation look at ways to make strict reforms on their police, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is about to deliver on his promise to enact a “Say Their Name” police reform agenda.

Along party lines in both houses, the state’s legislature has passed a bill that would repeal a current bill, New York Civil Rights Law section 50a.

In recent years, law makers have attempted to make changes to section 50a, which has been a law for over 40 years in the State of New York, to no avail.

Repealing the section will now make public all complaints against officers in addition to transcripts and final dispositions of disciplinary proceedings.

Cuomo, of course, has said that he “would sign any bill the legislature passed on 50-A reform, and the bill is written to take effect ‘immediately,'” according to the Gothamist.

The Gothamist also reported:

“The law does not require agencies to turn over information on ‘technical infractions,’ which are defined as ‘solely related to the enforcement of administrative departmental rules that

(a) do not involve interactions with members of the public,

(b) are not of public concern, and

(c) are not otherwise connected to such person’s investigative, enforcement, training, supervision, or reporting responsibilities.'”

One of the sponsors for the bill, Assemblyman Dan O’Donnell, said that the bill that was passed is largely the full repeal that protesters and advocates have been shouting about.

O’Donnell said:

“It is left somewhat vague on purpose in order to allow it to be interpreted and to allow an individual to challenge that interpretation.”

Another co-sponsor, Senator Jamaal Bailey, said:

“The silver lining on this incredibly dark cloud is that the sun is finally starting to shine on injustice.

Maybe it’s the unmistakable, and in my opinion indisputable, video evidence that we saw a live murder on TV, but it’s done something to the consciousness of America.

I don’t know if there could be a more meaningful piece of legislation for me and this body because it’s way more than just policy.

“There’s a time to not only correct what we thought and knew to be a flaw in the state law, but to correct misconceptions that many of us have carried for too long for things that we can never experience.”

Brooklyn State Assemblyman Erik Dilan said he supported the bill, but didn’t think it was strict enough. He said the phrase “are not of public concern” shouldn’t be in there. 

Dilan said:

“NYPD’s lawyers have a tremendous amount of things they do not believe are of ‘public concern.'”

During the two-and-a-half-hour discussion on the bill, Senator Patrick Gallivan, who voted against the bill, said:

“There’s no honest, decent police chief, there’s no honest, decent police officer, who does not want to make sure the bad cops are held accountable. The question of course is how best do we do that? We don’t do it by taking the civil rights away.”

Police unions across the state issued a joint statement opposing the repeal, saying the repeal is an “attack on law enforcement.”

Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch said during a Tuesday press conference:

“We, as professionals, are under assault. And this in a backdrop of a night when we had seven shootings (in Brooklyn) in seven minutes.”

Assemblyman Phil Ramos, who was a police officer for 20 years, said that he believes the legislation would help law enforcement officers.

He said:

“If you have the power to take a human life, there should be more sunlight shining.

“I say to my brother and sister police officers, your enemy is not the communities of color who are crying out for justice. Your enemies are these bad officers, who take it too far. I know it feels like the whole world is coming down on you, but the problem is coming from the people at your side.”

Readers have been writing in to Law Enforcement Today expressing their concern on the possibility of this repeal passing. It’s not the transparency or accountability they’re worried about: It’s their families’ safety.

Violent protesters have taken to calling on people to find officers’ home addresses and show up there to protest and/or be violent at their homes. With the way the climate is right now, releasing information on officers who may have gotten complaints is a dangerous notion, they say.

One reader wrote in, saying:

“The problem is that they may release personal information along with those records. If that happens, police officer home addresses could be released to the public.

“Police opponents recently advocated for googling for personal information to attack homes of officers if only names are released. Repealing 50a would be beyond reckless in this climate.”

Law Enforcement Today has done some research on the repeal, and we are hopeful that the language of the bill, while of course revealing disciplined officers’ names, will at least prevent the personal information, such as home addresses, from being disclosed.

This, according to co-sponsor O’Donnell, is “an extra layer of protection.”

Of course we recognize that it doesn’t stop the protesters from googling home addresses, as mentioned above, but we are hopeful that the gesture of allowing the disciplinary information to be obtained through the state’s Freedom Of Information Law (FOIL) will in itself be enough to take away people’s desire to search for personal information.

As always, we encourage every officer and their families to exercise extreme caution, on and off duty.

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