NYPD Foils FOIL Request For NYPD FOIL Handbook
from the in-other-news,-NYPD-denies-it-exists,-forwards-requests-to-Mailboxes,-Etc. dept
The NYPD’s approach to transparency has been negatively compared to the CIA, FBI and NSA by prominent investigative reporters, who noted that these other agencies will at least respond even if they’re not particularly interested in kicking the requested documents loose. The NYPD often won’t even respond, and when it does, it tends to drag the process out to the point of absurdity before finally deciding that no, it won’t release the requested information.
Muckrock points out that NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton once stated, “there should be no secrets in the NYPD.” The NYPD, under Ray Kelly (and apparently, going forward as well), has responded with, “Move along. There’s nothing (EVER) to see here.”
In what can only be described as a new low for the NYPD, it has denied Muckrock’s FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request for the NYPD’s FOIL handbook.
I have written a number of times about ongoing difficulties with the New York Police Department’s FOIL Unit. From rejecting routine requests to claiming “inability to locate” documents even when provided with a form number, NYPD seems hellbent on obstructing access to its records.
Last week, NYPD’s freedom of information squad determined that its own handbook is exempt from disclosure under FOIL, New York’s public records statute.
Somehow, the NYPD feels that attorney-client privilege applies to its internal handbook on FOIL requests and has used that exception to reach this illogical, Heller-esque nadir in department transparency. If Muckrock’s challenge of the NYPD’s rationale is denied, it opens up all sorts of possibilities for the tight-lipped department, as Shawn Musgrave points out.
I very much hope that a competent lawyer who is familiar with NYPD’s obligations under FOIL prepared the department’s records request manual and training materials. But just because something was prepared or reviewed by an attorney does not mean that an agency can withhold it. If this were true, the vast majority of policy documents prepared by any agency counsel would be immune from disclosure, as would most talking points memos, reports and communiques that endure lawyerly vetting. This is simply not how attorney-client privilege is meant to work.
It may be time for the DOJ to declare the NYPD a “rogue agency” (or whatever) and start steering the department back into the calmer waters of public service. It certainly fits the description. It apparently answers to nobody, routinely rewrites laws and guidelines to justify unconstitutional behavior and sends its uninvited personnel to the scenes of terrorist attacks around the world. Ray Kelly called it the seventh-largest standing army in the world, but it behaves more like a law unto itself.