NYPD Tells Judge Its $25 Million Forfeiture Database Has No Backup
from the overpriced-by-at-least-$25-million dept
The NYPD is actively opposed to transparency. It does all it can to thwart outsiders from accessing any info about the department’s inner workings. This has led to numerous lawsuits from public records requesters. It has also led to a long-running lawsuit featuring the Bronx Defenders, which has been trying to gain access to civil forfeiture documents for years.
The NYPD has repeatedly claimed it simply cannot provide the records the Bronx Defenders (as well as other records requesters) have requested. Not because it doesn’t want to, even though it surely doesn’t. But because it can’t.
The department has spent $25 million on a forfeiture tracking system that can’t even do the one thing it’s supposed to do: track forfeitures. The Property and Evidence Tracking System (PETS) is apparently so complex and so badly constructed, the NYPD can’t compile the records being sought.
Oddly enough, the Bronx Defenders has pieced together enough data from the NYPD’s broken PETS (along with other public records) to at least point out the glaring discrepancy between what the department publicly claims it has in its forfeiture accounts and what the database says it does.
At the hearing, the NYPD claimed that it only legally forfeited $11,653 in currency last year — that is, gone to court and actually made a case as to why the NYPD should be taking this money.
In the accounting summaries which the Bronx Defenders submitted as part of its testimony, the NYPD reports that as of December 2013, its property clerk had almost $69 million in seized cash on hand. This amount had been carried over from previous years, showing an annual accumulation of seized cash that has reached an enormous amount. The documents also show that each month, the five property clerk’s offices across the city took in tens of thousands of dollars in cash, ultimately generating over $6 million in revenue for the department.
When pressed in court, NYPD experts claim the NYPD lacks the expertise to extract the sought data from its forfeiture database. These assertions are at odds with the NYPD’s self-perception: that it is fastest and smartest law enforcement agency in the US (better than the FBI, in fact) and foreign governments should be grateful its officers and analysts are showing up uninvited at scenes of overseas terrorist attacks.
Somehow, these highly-trained officers are unable to extract data from a $25 million database. Maybe it’s not the lack of talent. Maybe it’s the lack of desire. Maybe the NYPD has zero interest in tracking this data because it doesn’t want the public to see how much it has hoovered up or make it any easier for citizens to challenge forfeitures.
The lawsuit continues, with the NYPD continuing to top itself with each round of expert testimony. As Adam Klasfield reports for Courthouse News, the NYPD’s $25 million database is worth even less than previously assumed.
New York City is one power surge away from losing all of the data police have on millions of dollars in unclaimed forfeitures, a city attorney admitted to a flabbergasted judge on Tuesday.
“That’s insane,” Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Arlene Bluth said repeatedly from the bench.
It is insane. There’s no way around it. The assumption would be that a $25 million database has built-in redundancy. But of course it wouldn’t. Not with the NYPD running it and not with its active disinterest in providing records to records requesters or having any accountability present in its forfeiture system.
And why should the NYPD fix it? From its perspective, this is fine. Data goes in and never comes out. If it all disappears because someone trips over the power cord, the NYPD suffers no negative consequences. Everything it has taken over the years defaults to the NYPD until proven otherwise by claimants. And that’s going to be a lot tougher to do when the NYPD has no records related to the forfeiture.
The court is in no position to do anything about this. It can’t order the NYPD to fix its system. All it can do is demand it comply with records requests and pay the legal fees of prevailing parties. But the NYPD can continue to run a useless system for the rest of whatever. The burden of proof in forfeiture cases is already shifted to claimants. A broken system places even more of a burden on those seeking return of their property, thanks to PETS being unable to confirm or deny existence of responsive records. It’s GlomarDb and it makes a mockery of public records laws and due process simultaneously.