NYPD Suddenly Stops Making Disciplinary Documents Public; Cites 'Saving Paper,' 40-Year-Old Law

from the New-York-Civil-Code,-Sec.-GFY dept

The NYPD may not have time to update its Muslim surveillance policies or inform its officers of changes to its stop-and-frisk program, but it certainly has time to dig around for policies it can use to keep even more information out of the public's hands.

The New York Daily News reports the NYPD has been paging through old laws and has found something that will be useful in further reducing the department's accountability. (h/t Reason)

Citing a clause in a 40-year-old law, the NYPD has suddenly decided to keep records regarding the discipline of officers under lock and key — and will no longer release the information to the public, the Daily News has learned.

For decades, journalists have had access to "Personnel Orders." The NYPD used to hang these on a clipboard in its public information office. The orders contained information about closed internal investigations of police misconduct -- namely, by detailing promotions withheld, etc. Then, suddenly, the NYPD just stopped posting the orders.

When asked, the NYPD first claimed to be very interested in conserving renewable resources.

The clipboard has not been updated since April, when an order dated March 31 was posted. At the time, the NYPD told The News it was saving paper.

Then, when presumably asked if digital copies were going to be made available, the NYPD changed it story. The real reason is an NYPD lawyer with far too much time on their hands found a clause in a 1976 law that could serve as yet another departmental middle finger in the direction of transparency.

Asked what prompted the shift, Deputy Chief Edward Mullen, a police spokesman, said “somebody” in the department’s Legal Bureau realized that, for years, it had been giving out information it should not have.

Sure enough, the law appears to say what the NYPD says it says.

All personnel records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion, under the control of any police agency or department of the state… shall be considered confidential and not subject to inspection or review without the express written consent of such police officer, … correction officer or peace officer within the department of corrections and community supervision except as may be mandated by lawful court order.

But why is it doing this now? If it's been handing out this info for "decades," then it's been posting the records publicly since shortly after the law was enacted that says it doesn't have to without being presented with a court order. It appears the NYPD's office is permanently tasked with finding ways to keep any details about officer misconduct away from the public. And the answer's been staring the NYPD in the face since pretty much the moment it started posting personnel records.

The NYPD's unofficial policy on transparency and accountability is to only address either if forced to. And yet, it claims it's so open and transparent it can hardly stand it.

Police officials have argued the NYPD puts out more information than it ever has.

More crime stats and reports are posted online, precincts routinely use Twitter to provide updates and use-of-force reports will soon be provided to the City Council.

When you're releasing only the sort of data that mainly details wrongdoing by others (crime stats, Twitter updates, arrest reports), then it's really easy to be "open" and "transparent." The stuff the NYPD is more reluctant to turn over (use-of-force reports) is still running through additional filters (the city council) before it ends up in the hands of the public.

What's really of public interest now are details on police misconduct and how departments are handling internal investigations. And right at the height of this interest, the NYPD is using a 40-year-old law to cut the public out of the loop.


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 2 Sep 2016 @ 1:48am

    "You misunderstand, 'transparency' means we can watch you, not the other way around."

    This of course being the same NYPD which had made it clear in their open contempt for encryption that it doesn't believe anyone should ever be able to hide anything from them, and that mere accusation of wrongdoing should be enough for punishment to be meted out when it comes to stuff they steal from people.

    Ah blatant hypocrisy, thy name is NYPD...

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

  • icon
    justok (profile), 2 Sep 2016 @ 3:39am

    When

    When will the ones named in the past sue NYPD for such illegal disclosures?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2016 @ 3:40am

    Time for a new NYPD

    The NYPD seems to think it is above the law and the people that they are supposed to be serving. Illegal stops and searches, illegal and unconstitutional surveillance on specific religions and or races, and completely one sided prosecution of assaults. They can beat and kill with impunity and demand a larger pay and benefit package year over year. They boast of being the largest private army in the world, and yet ignore the fact that the people they are serving do not need an army. They need a police force who is loyal to them, not to to the police brotherhood first last and always.

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

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 2 Sep 2016 @ 4:29am

    Almost like they are doing everything in their power to make people revolt against them.

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

  • icon
    drewdad (profile), 2 Sep 2016 @ 5:32am

    Double standard

    If a website had been posting data in violation of the law, TechDirt would be condemning it and demanding compliance.

    If NYPD posts data in violation of the law, screw rule of law, we want the damned personal data.


    Anyone see a problem with this?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2016 @ 5:50am

      Re: Double standard

      No we don't because we understand that 2016 is a digitized era where publishing things like disciplinary actions online costs nothing in terms of paper or printing expenses. The people of NY demand accountability from the police who work for them. Hiding behind previously unused laws as an excuse to no longer be accountable is not something that benefits New Yorkers.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2016 @ 6:11am

        Re: Re: Double standard

        If New Yorker's cared they would fix it.

        I have yet to see them fix it. Right now they are letting their elected officials get by with literal murder.

        I would say that the number of people that see NYPD as a corruption are in the minority. Though I am sure there also are some just to scarred to stand up to a corrupt police force as well.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2016 @ 6:17am

          Re: Re: Re: Double standard

          "I have yet to see them fix it."

          Yup, blame the victims for not solving the problem.
          Brilliant!

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2016 @ 7:39am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Double standard

            Huh?

            Citizens that sit idle while government advances towards tyranny are not innocent. "We The People" are responsible for the actions of government!

            Your refusal to understand this facilitates the destruction of the nation. Your hole grows cold child, go and put your head back in it and leave the grown ups to these affairs.

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

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2016 @ 8:20am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Double standard

              "Your refusal to understand"

              Wrong.
              It is understanding that citizens have been removed from the decision making process.
              Peons have no say, you are delusional.

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

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2016 @ 10:54am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Double standard

                They are only removed if they decide to allow it.

                You deserve little respectable attention on the matter.

                A specific individual may not be directly guilty of their governments tyranny, however the citizenry has a whole can never escape responsibility to their fellow man to... Well the "Declaration of Independence" says it best!

                That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

                THEIR RIGHT, THEIR DUTY!

                Those like you whom shirk duty and even go so far as to offer lip service against those trying to fulfill it or make others more aware of it are the very most poisonous and rotten of humanity.

                Be aware, that you would have been one of the people that The Founding Fathers of America would have marched an Army against were you an obstacle greater than "resident internet stink bug".

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

                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2016 @ 4:42pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Double standard

                  This is exactly why the portion of the government responsible for watching and controlling the population in our own country has been growing faster than any other government organization in history. Think about what a department of homeland security is really for and what their plans must be following the usurping of so many rights in such a short period of time. They anticipated armed rebellion and attempts to replace them and honestly must be very surprised that there have been so few signs of it happening.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2016 @ 7:50am

        Re: Re: Double standard

        The "saving paper" excuse was just that, a temporary excuse. Based on the portion of the law quoted in the Techdirt piece, I must very reluctantly agree that the NYPD is supposed to keep those reports private. Disclosing them, whether on paper or online, seems to violate the instructions in the quoted law. I would love to see the law changed to require disclosure in some form. Perhaps an initial compromise would be to disclose the reports with the personal identifiers anonymized through a one-way transform. Given two reports, you could say whether they were about the same officer, but you could not, using only those reports, identify which officer they described. That would provide public accountability by telling the citizens:

        - How often investigations occur in general
        - Whether there exist officers who get investigated unusually often
        - The results of investigations, including whether some officers get cleared (or condemned) more frequently than others

        As the NSA et al. routinely assure us, anonymized data like that can never be de-anonymized in reasonable time, so officer privacy is preserved. If you can't trust the NSA on an assurance like that, who can you trust?

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

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 2 Sep 2016 @ 2:13pm

      Re: Double standard

      You believe in following every law no matter what it is? Or the context it is in.

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 2 Sep 2016 @ 5:35am

    I'm amused that the Government sometimes acts as if it must present profits. This is precisely the type of thing, public accountability, that should not be worried about spending less if it hinders the purpose of the job. For all the 'minimalist' government talks we hear, there are things no private entity will ever do simply because there aren't profits or there may be losses involved. But in the long run many will benefit from it, making the collective earnings much higher overshadowing the losses the Govt sustained. This is particularly true for some infra-structure expenditures.

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

  • identicon
    Michael, 2 Sep 2016 @ 5:59am

    I would not be too quick to judge the police department on this one.

    It seems just as likely that an officer had something embarrassing posted and sued the department for violating his rights.

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

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 2 Sep 2016 @ 6:07am

    NYPD: How to save paper

    Put those documents online. Once you set up the infrastructure, which is cheap, each document published is virtually free.

    C'mon. It's time! Move into the 20th century!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2016 @ 7:19am

    Psychology

    Justifications and lawbreaking go hand-in-hand.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2016 @ 8:22am

      Re: Psychology

      Yup, just look at all the "justifications" make by politicians and their mouth pieces - but they have done nothing wrong.

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

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 2 Sep 2016 @ 12:21pm

    NYPD: If you've done nothing wrong . . .

    . . . then you've got nothing to hide.

    Isn't that what you tell people?

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

  • identicon
    Dr evil, 2 Sep 2016 @ 4:07pm

    Ok, then just add one thing..

    The officers need to have a Motion to Compel filed on each of them to force their signing approval to view. of course, the officers have a short time to comply outside of a court review and order, any refusing should have that fact also noted. Sorry for the poor English, on an itty bitty screen with time constraint...

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


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