NYPD Chief Ray Kelly And Mayor Bloomberg Still Think Privacy Is A Good Thing -- Just Not YOUR Privacy

from the reaching-hypocritical-mass dept

When NYPD Chief Ray Kelly said "privacy was off the table" following the Boston bombing, we all knew this was a one-way "exchange." It was always going to be average citizens losing out on their privacy. The NYPD would remain unaffected and continue to operate the way it has for years: behind the thin thick blue line of opacity.

Salon's CJ Ciaramella takes a detailed look at the NYPD's track record on Freedom of Information requests. The results are unsurprising. The public entities that demand the most from their constituents are often the most reluctant to give anything back.

The city’s Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who is running for mayor, recently released a report asserting that a third of all Freedom of Information records requests to the police department were ignored. The numbers are no surprise to journalists who cover the department, such as Leonard Levitt, a veteran cops reporter who now writes at NYPD Confidential.

“All I can tell you is that the NYPD does whatever it wants to regarding FOI requests,” Levitt said. “Which means they never turn anything over, at least not to me. The only time they did respond was after I got the NY Civil Liberties Union involved.”
Levitt's case isn't unique. Others have run into the same officious stonewalling and found it often takes a lawsuit (or the threat of one) to shake anything loose. All Levitt was looking for was Ray Kelly's daily calendar. The department cited "security reasons" when rejecting his request. By this logic, protecting Ray Kelly is more important than protecting the President of the United States, whose calendar is public.

What isn't rejected outright is simply ignored. Those making the requests are left to decide whether the requested information is worth the time and expense of a lawsuit. The NYCLU has found itself in court time and time again in attempts to pry info loose from the NYPD's grip.

Ciaramella had his own experience with the NYPD's FOI recalcitrance when he sought access to gun discharge reports that might shed some light on the "hail of gunfire" unleashed by the NYPD in the course of bringing down the Empire State Building shooter.
Back in October 2012, this reporter submitted a public records request for the discharge reports filed by NYPD officers over the previous year.

I filed the public records request on Oct. 1. And then waited. On Jan. 11, I received this response:
In regard to your request, for all weapons discharge reports filled [sic] by officers between January 1, 2012 and September 26, 2012, I must deny access to these records on the basis of Public Officers Law section 87 (2)(g) and 87 (2)(e) as such records/information, if disclosed would reveal criminal investigative techniques or procedures, and or are intra-agency materials. Furthermore, these records are also exempt from disclosure as these records on the basis of Public Officers Law section 87 (2)(e) and Public Officers Law 87 (2)(a) in that such records consist of personell records of a Police Officer and are therefore exempt from disclosure under the provisions of Civil Rights Law section 50-a.

Now, stop and consider this for a second. The NYPD said the public interest of how, when and why its officers use deadly force against the citizens it’s sworn to protect is outweighed by the need to protect the privacy of those same officers. Not only that, the public interest was outweighed by the need to protect its investigative techniques.
This is par for the course and not unique to the NYPD. Police forces all over the nation (and the word, for that matter) are notorious for protecting their own. This insular attitude tends to result in the sort of ridiculous arguments detailed above. Protecting officers from public scrutiny always outweighs the public interest because it's the "home team" making the call.

But this reflexive "cops-first" rejection of Ciaramella's request was particularly brash, seeing as it completely contradicted a previous judicial ruling.
A New York judge ruled two years ago — in response to a NYCLU lawsuit, naturally — that discharge reports are subject to disclosure, do not violate officers’ privacy and do not compromise the department’s investigative techniques.
The NYPD at least tried a different tack with Ciaramella's next discharge report request, denying it because it was insufficiently descriptive of the files requested -- even though it was nearly identical to the previous filing.

This is a systemic problem. FOI requests are ignored, rejected or put on the back burner until someone gets a lawyer involved. If any answer arrives, it's usually months or years down the road and, in many cases, redacted to the point of uselessness.

New York's FOI problem goes all the way to the top. Bloomberg's office has spent significant amounts of time and money battling FOI requests as well.

ProPublica's Sergio Hernandez spent nearly two years trying to obtain emails related to the 2010 appointment of Cathie Black as School Chancellor. (Black was a controversial pick who stepped into the position with no relevant experience after her predecessor suddenly resigned his post.)
When the emails were finally released last week, after a two-year legal battle, they revealed a desperate public relations campaign in which city officials tried to rally support from prominent women — including Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinem, Caroline Kennedy, and Bette Midler — to champion Black's appointment. (I'll admit: never in a million years did I expect my work to result in stories containing the sentence, "Ms. Winfrey couldn't be reached for comment.") In the end, the emails were amusing, slightly enlightening, but largely innocuous.
Hernandez points out that much has been made about the last-minute attempt to persuade female celebrities to show their support for the new chancellor, but much less ink has been spilled questioning why the city fought this request for so long, racking up a total of 180 staff hours and costs of over $25,000.

In the very limited defense of the NYPD, all FOI requests are funneled through a single office. This inefficient design can partially be blamed for the extensive delays. But it doesn't excuse the general attitude that citizens need to be an open book while those in charge continue to operate in near opacity. And the inequity keeps getting worse, according to Robert Freeman, executive director of the NY State Commission on Open Government.
“I’ve been here since 1974,” Freeman said. “The track record of the police department, particularly in the last decade, indicates in so many instances a failure to give effect to the spirit and letter of the freedom of information law."

“I look back at various mayoral administrations, and my feeling is that there was more of an intent to comply with the law in the era of Mayor [Ed] Koch than there has been since,” Freeman continued. “My sense has been that the downward slope began in Giuliani’s administration.”
There's little hope of any immediate change. Entities like the two discussed are naturally resistant to transparency and sudden movement. The fact that the NYPD and Mayor Bloomberg have formed a mutual admiration society over the years indicates that it will remain "business as usual" until a mayor willing to stand up to the police department (and stand up for his constituents) is elected. The last two office holders have been more than happy to indulge the PD's excesses, all the while further isolating themselves from the demands of transparency laws and the people they're supposed to be serving.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), May 10th, 2013 @ 6:23am

    I thought mafias were the ones interested in keeping their businesses hidden from the public while engaging in all sorts of wrongdoing not necessarily criminally, no?

     

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

  2.  
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    silverscarcat (profile), May 10th, 2013 @ 6:51am

    The only difference...

    Between a cop and a crook is the badge.

    Nothing else.

     

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

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 10th, 2013 @ 7:30am

    as stated, privacy (and freedom) is great and should be rigorously protected under all circumstances, as long as it doesn't apply to ordinary members of the public! that also changes as soon as those that are not members of the public at the moment, and therefore have their privacy and freedom protected, then become ordinary members of the public! if anything, they are the ones that should be prepared more than anyone else to lose them, as they are advocates of stripping it from everyone else!

     

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

  4.  
    identicon
    gnudist, May 10th, 2013 @ 7:33am

    Bloomberg should allow regular inspections of his home by the public.

    After all if he doesn't have anything to hide he has nothing to worry about

     

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

  5.  
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    TheLastCzarnian (profile), May 10th, 2013 @ 8:13am

    So, the NYPD wants to work extra-legally, unethically, in secret, and should be solely responsible for the personal defence of their citizens. Oh, yeah, and you can't record anything they do.

    Who watches the watchmen?

     

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

  6.  
    icon
    Lance Bledsoe (profile), May 10th, 2013 @ 8:21am

    (minor edit)

    I think that last paragraph in the second italicized block is not supposed to be italicized.

     

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

  7.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), May 10th, 2013 @ 8:34am

    Sigh, this continues to be depressing.
    Those with power,money,fame more and more often are never held to the same standard they demand from everyone else.

    They will find some excuse in their head to justify setting themselves apart, and pretend it is a non-issue.

     

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

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 10th, 2013 @ 8:44am

    In regard to your request, for all weapons discharge reports filled [sic] by officers between January 1, 2012 and September 26, 2012, I must deny access to these records on the basis of Public Officers Law...as such records/information, if disclosed would reveal criminal investigative techniques or procedures, and or are intra-agency materials.

    At least they admit that "shoot first, ask questions later" is an official technique. That's something worth knowing.

     

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

  9.  
    icon
    Berenerd (profile), May 10th, 2013 @ 9:49am

    Wow...

    " I must deny access to these records on the basis of Public Officers Law section 87 (2)(g) and 87 (2)(e) as such records/information, if disclosed would reveal criminal investigative techniques or procedures, and or are intra-agency materials."

    I had no idea the secret to investigating crimes involved how many times you shoot your gun...

     

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

  10.  
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    DOlz (profile), May 10th, 2013 @ 10:59am

    Re: The only difference...

    This attitude is becoming more and more common. Which is why the police need to take off the blinders and realize the public's trust and respect has to be earned. Acting like thugs and protecting the minority who behave badly only tars them all with the same brush.

     

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

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 10th, 2013 @ 12:55pm

    Re: Wow...

    You sir have not watched enough John Woo movies.

     

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

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 10th, 2013 @ 2:52pm

    Re: Re: The only difference...

    the police need to take off the blinders and realize the public's trust and respect has to be earned.


    No. You need to take off the blinders.

    The last time ran their annual poll on Confidence in American Institutions (June 7-10, 2012) their results showed that 56% of the American public had a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the police.

    Looking at the historical poll data for this question, I don't expect the results to change that much when Gallup runs their poll again this year.

    Well over half of America trusts the police.

     

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

  13.  
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    DOlz (profile), May 10th, 2013 @ 3:04pm

    Re: Re: Re: The only difference...

    You missed the first sentence in my comment.

    "This attitude is becoming more and more common."

    I used to have a great deal of trust and faith in the police. However; that is eroding every year and a lot of the people I know are having the same problem. 56% is not well over half and I would argue for an organization that is suppose to help and protect the citizens that is a dismally low number. Also could you provide a link to the historical data you say proves your point?

    Finally are you saying the police DO NOT have to earn the public's trust and respect?

     

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

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 10th, 2013 @ 3:16pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: The only difference...

    could you provide a link to the historical data ...?


    Same link. Scroll down the page for details on each poll question.

     

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

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 10th, 2013 @ 3:25pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: The only difference...

    Finally are you saying the police DO NOT have to earn the public's trust and respect?

    I don't think they earn it.

     

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

  16.  
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    That One Guy (profile), May 10th, 2013 @ 5:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: The only difference...

    56% is anything but 'well over half', that's more 'barely over half', and when almost half of the entirely population polled says they don't trust the police... yeah, you've got one hell of a problem.

     

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

  17.  
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    Bergman (profile), May 10th, 2013 @ 5:33pm

    Re:

    Omerta has nothing on the blue wall of silence.

     

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

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 10th, 2013 @ 6:34pm

    A mick and a kike walk into a bar...

     

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

  19.  
    icon
    Bergman (profile), May 10th, 2013 @ 6:41pm

    Re:

    No way! That would be an invasion of his right to privacy.

     

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


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