Appeals Court Rejects New York Police Unions' Attempt To Block Disclosure Of Disciplinary Records
from the your-definitions-of-'irreparable'-and-'harm'-suck-equally dept
A bunch of New York City law enforcement unions have been suing to block the side effects of the repeal of 50-a, an ordinance passed in 1976 that exempted police departments and other agencies (like fire departments) from disclosing information about misconduct to the public.
For more than 40 years, the bad law remained in place. It took nationwide anger of the killing of another black man by a white cop to get it taken off the books. In response, a bunch of unions presiding over the New York City’s police and fire departments lawyered up, hoping to continue withholding this information.
The legal battle has reached the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. And the Appeals Court doesn’t find the plaintiffs’ assertions about “irreparable harm” credible. The unions claim the repeal of 50-a (and the consequent release of disciplinary records) violates agreements they have with the city — one that says findings in favor of officers/employees will be removed from employees’ disciplinary records.
The Appeals Court [PDF] points out that the unions can’t just decide the public employees they represent don’t have to follow the law.
[T]o the extent that this claim implicates records that must be disclosed under FOIL, the NYPD cannot bargain away its disclosure obligations.
The Appeals Court affirms everything the district court already told the unions. “Irreparable harm” is not only not foreseeable, it’s not even remotely credible.
The Unions assert that law enforcement officers will have fewer employment opportunities in the future if records of the allegations against them that prove to be unfounded or unsubstantiated are disclosed, even though each record will reveal the outcome of the investigation. But the District Court noted that future employers were unlikely to be misled by conduct records that contained “dispositional designations” specifying that allegations of misconduct were unsubstantiated, unfounded, or that the accused officer was exonerated. As the District Court also noted, despite evidence that numerous other States make similar records available to the public, the Unions have pointed to no evidence from any jurisdiction that the availability of such records resulted in harm to employment opportunities.
No harm foreseeable there. Unfortunately, that sort of means employers like the NYPD aren’t all that selective in their hiring processes. Multiple allegations — even if they ultimately resulted in exoneration — should be a red flag. And the NYPD should definitely know this because its internal review process clears bad cops all the time, ensuring they can continue to engage in misconduct without fear of reprisal.
The same goes for the equally wild claim that disclosing these records will result in physical harm to officers.
We also address the Union’s more general assertion of heightened danger and safety risks to police officers. We fully and unequivocally respect the dangers and risks police officers face every day. But we cannot say that the District Court abused its discretion when it determined that the Unions have not sufficiently demonstrated that those dangers and risks are likely to increase because of the City’s planned disclosures. In arriving at that conclusion, we note again that many other States make similar misconduct records at least partially available to the public without any evidence of a resulting increase of danger to police officers.
The unions’ argument only makes sense if they are asserting that New York City residents are far more prone to acts of violence targeting law enforcement officers following the release of public records than people living elsewhere in the company. And if that’s the argument, it hasn’t been preserved for appeal so…
The Appeals Court hands out even more rejection along state law lines. Simply asserting “diminished” employment opportunities on the presupposition of “damaged reputations” is not enough to engage state constitutional protections. There’s also nothing in the unions’ equal protection assertions since (despite the best efforts of a bunch of idiotic legislators at both state and federal levels) police officers and first responders are not a protected class.
Everything the unions argued is “without merit.” That’s the final call. (Note: It may not be the final call. But this doesn’t look like the sort of the thing the Supreme Court is interested in entertaining.) 50-a is gone. The records can be made public. And if cops think it will hurt them to hand over records showing they’ve been exonerated will result in harm to themselves and their careers, they’re not going to find any sympathy from the courts, much less the general public they’ve been hiding records from for years.