Federal Court Temporarily Extends The NYPD's Famous Opacity, Blocks Release Of Misconduct Records

from the dammit dept

The NYPD barely bothers to punish officers who misbehave. This "misbehavior" often includes violations of rights and extrajudicial killings, but it appears the NYPD feels New York's "finest" should be above reproach. Consequently, NYPD internal investigations often conclude no officers should be reproached, allowing them to remain the "finest" even when they're really the worst.

A new wrinkle in the law fabric might change that. After years of doing nothing (and after years of the NYPD never bothering to invoke the law), the state repealed "50a," the statute that allowed the NYPD to withhold misconduct records from the public. For several years, the NYPD posted the outcome of internal investigations. Then it decided it was no longer going to do that. First, it blamed the high cost of printer ink. Then it cited the law that allowed it to stop posting reports where the press could access them.

Lawsuits followed. And -- as is the case whenever law enforcement opacity is threatened -- the NYPD's unions have intervened. It was too little too late. An injunction was sought and obtained, but ProPublica -- which wasn't a party to the lawsuit over 50a records -- published what it had already received from the NYPD. But the battle continues because future opacity is at stake. Unfortunately, a federal court has decided opacity must win out for the moment.

A federal court has halted the release of police misconduct records until a coalition of New York City’s police, fire and corrections unions can make their case to the United States Second Circuit of Appeals.

The ruling came Wednesday afternoon — just days after Manhattan Federal Judge Katherine Polk Failla ruled on a lawsuit brought by the unions over the repeal of the law shielding police personnel records known as 50a.

That's right. The union doesn't just want records blocked from release. It wants the law back on the books. This is all very procedural so it probably doesn't wipe away Judge Faila's distaste for this lawsuit. Five days prior to this temporary injunction, Faila had this to say about the union's challenge of the repeal.

The lawsuit, brought by the coalition of unions over the repeal of 50a, argued that releasing unsubstantiated or unfounded allegations would put officers and firefighters at risk and would affect their employment prospects if they leave their department.

But Failla said the unions failed to explain why an “officer in charge of hiring would be incapable of interpreting the records” and she had been “presented with no evidence of increased violence or threat of violence.”

The disclosures plaintiffs’ argument also seems to overlook the disclosures that have historically been made,” Failla said, noting that the NYPD had previously published disciplinary records in recent years at NYPD headquarters.

“Any injunctive relief that I would order, could not put that particular horse back in the barn,” she added.

And yet this ad hoc collection of union legal cowboys is desperate to do just that. The horse cannot be re-barned but maybe enough union members' money can be blown delaying the inevitable. This will be the trophy brought back to the rank-and-file. Money was spent in an attempt to thwart transparency. And -- in the absence of any real victories -- this will have to do.

Maybe in the end the courts will decide the repeal of 50a violates the many, many collective bargaining agreements the city has agreed to over the years. If so, New York City needs to let these expire and write new ones that actually give taxpayers a bit more bang for their buck. Accountability is a must. The city's unions continue to insist it's a luxury even the nation's largest city can't afford.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: 50a, katherine polk failla, new york, nyc, nypd, police misconduct, police unions, transparency


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    K`Tetch (profile), 1 Sep 2020 @ 11:19pm

    sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander, right?

    So, if revealing information before things are substantiated might be dangerous or otherwise potentially negative for the named, does that mean that the NYPD will have an absolute blanket ban on revealing the names of any and all suspects until they have been convicted?

    I mean, I'm pretty sure accusing many people of a crime will potentially put them "at risk and would affect their employment prospects".

    Or is it another example of 'special' carve-outs because they feel they're better and more important and so should have far greater protections than anyone else.

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

    • icon
      Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 2 Sep 2020 @ 5:30am

      Re: sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander, right?

      Be careful what you wish for.

      does that mean that the NYPD will have an absolute blanket ban on revealing the names of any and all suspects until they have been convicted?

      Any regime that likes to "disappear" people would be happy to respect privacy in this way...

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

  • icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 2 Sep 2020 @ 12:23am

    No, the gander gets sawdust, not sauce.

    "Or is it another example of 'special' carve-outs because they feel they're better and more important and so should have far greater protections than anyone else."

    A special carve-out, naturally. Quite a lot of police unions have managed to add "special" provisions into their contracts. Some of which, depending on municipality, include;

    -- every 60 days an officer gets to clean his sheet of any and every complaint lodged against him/her.
    -- Before an officer is accused said officer gets a 24 hour preview on the evidence arraigned against him/her - before the DA does.
    -- Nigh-immunity to being fired.
    -- elaborate catch-22 bureaucratic loops rendering the possibility to render a complaint against an officer nigh impossible to begin with, save for direct DA intervention.
    -- etc.

    NYPD is notorious for being very heavy on misbehaving officers and said officers being incredibly well protected by their city contracts. Their union is led by the particularly rank example of badge-über-alles defender Patrick Lynch. If Minnesotas police union rep can be described best as a white supremacist in a racist biker gang then Lynch fits the profile of a canny mob Capo.

    And it has to be said that union reps are elected. The NYPD is solidly behind that man which should tell you everything you need to know about the NYPD in general.

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

    • icon
      Narcissus (profile), 2 Sep 2020 @ 1:21am

      Re: No, the gander gets sawdust, not sauce.

      I think the problem here is not a lack of transparency, it's a lack of proper oversight.

      I'm not a fan of releasing the police records and neither am I a fan of releasing arrest records, including pictures, and I'm definitely not a fan of the so-called perp-walks. As mentioned above, regular citizens will experience real consequences as a result from having their face plastered all over the news, even if they are later exonerated.

      In theory everybody subscribes to the "innocent until proven guilty" idea but let's face it, if you see somebody that is arrested and walked out to the police car in the early morning in his underwear with his doughy belly hanging out and his hair in a mess you're going to assume that guy is guilty as hell.

      On this side of the pacific in many countries the identity of the accused are protected quite stringently, with full co-operation of the press. So, faces are covered with those black strips over the eyes and names are shortened to initials. Sometimes it gets a bit ridiculous even, for example if everybody knows who the accused is. However in principle I support this. Even if you're proven guilty, re-integrating into society is hard enough after a prison sentence without having been publicly exposed.

      I do have a certain amount of sympathy for the argument that opening the records up would increase the risk for the police and firefighters. But, I also believe in consequences! So if you make mistakes or, as in many cases, break the law, you should be properly punished. Either by being demoted or fired or having pay docked. If you break the law you should face the same consequences as other people and, if the transgression is serious enough, of course you should never be allowed to enforce the law again, nationwide.

      So, I think a much better solution would be to have better oversight, which is possible. Perhaps create a committee that includes civilians and/or judges to oversee complaints. Perhaps there could be an independent organization with far reaching authority to which you can submit your complaints. Something. Don't say that it is impossible because many countries manage it reasonably well.

      However, since that doesn't exist yet, I do think the records should be public until oversight improves. It's the only way you can work towards justice. Perhaps that is also a discussion that can be had with police unions: Transparency or proper oversight. Although that needs a bit more civic responsibility from the unions than they've shown so far.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2020 @ 7:47am

        Re: Re: No, the gander gets sawdust, not sauce.

        Even if you're proven guilty, re-integrating into society is hard enough after a prison sentence without having been publicly exposed.

        Over there, on your side of the Pacific, people are imprisoned without having been proven guilty? ... for long enough that they need to re-integrate into society?

        Perhaps create a committee that includes civilians and/or judges to oversee complaints. ...

        You mean, like the Civilian Complaint Review Board?

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

        • icon
          Another Kevin (profile), 2 Sep 2020 @ 8:45am

          Over there, on your side of the Pacific, people are imprisoned without having been proven guilty? ... for long enough that they need to re-integrate into society?

          No, that's an American specialty. Hold them while awaiting trial. There are misdemeanants who plead guilty in order to get out of jail, sentenced to time served.

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

        • icon
          Narcissus (profile), 2 Sep 2020 @ 9:30am

          Re: Re: Re: No, the gander gets sawdust, not sauce.

          Okay, it seems that some people lack comprehensive reading skills so I'll spell it out.
          For "Even if you're proven guilty" read:

          "Even if you're proven guilty and the perp-walk and public shaming was justified because you actually did what you were arrested and exposed for,.."
          Better?"

          So, if you already have a Civilian Complaint Review Board, it seems it is failing. I did however not say that was the silver bullet, my point was merely that oversight needs to improve. There are many ways you could do that.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2020 @ 5:13pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: No, the gander gets sawdust, not sauce.

            Oversight needs the authority to compel obediance. This has never been an option.

            Allowing the public to review issues is one good way to bring pressire when necessary.

            "innocent until proven guilty" only works if there is ever an actual and valid investigation where, again, cops don't get more rights and privileges and leeway than everyone else.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2020 @ 5:02pm

        Re: Re: No, the gander gets sawdust, not sauce.

        regular citizens will experience real consequences as a result from having their face plastered all over the news, even if they are later exonerated.

        what's with the future tense, lol

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

    • icon
      Tribune (profile), 2 Sep 2020 @ 7:56am

      Re: No, the gander gets sawdust, not sauce.

      In Erie County's Town of Tonawanda, some people suggest formalizing sexual 'gratuities' as a perq. https://buffalochronicle.com/2020/08/29/tonawanda-residents-want-a-new-policy-that-allows-police-to- accept-sexual-gratuities/

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2020 @ 8:39am

        Re: Re: No, the gander gets sawdust, not sauce.

        wtf - is this the onion?

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

      • icon
        Another Kevin (profile), 2 Sep 2020 @ 8:42am

        'Sexual gratuities' as a perq

        "He is king, he does whatever he wants... takes the girl from her mother and uses her, the warrior's daughter, the young man's bride." - Epic of Gilgamesh

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

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 4:09am

        Re: Re: No, the gander gets sawdust, not sauce.

        W. T. F...

        "The policy would not allow officers to request sexual gratuities under any circumstance, but in the event that such a non-monetary gratuity is offered, the officer would not be punished for accepting it, so long as the encounter is less than 15 minutes and the officer declines to take his next scheduled 15 minute break. "

        ...i'm not sure whether to laugh or cry...

        "In this political environment, with all the horrible things being said about our police officers in the national media, this policy would be a real morale booster,” says Karen, a Tonawanda resident and supporter of the policy change who asked that her last name not be published. She is leading a woman’s group that is lobbying for the new policy..."

        I'm not sure the news that you can now obtain "goodwill" from LEO's by offering a blow job or a quick backseat lambada is going to do much to improve the public image of the police.

        Especially not given the speculated reason as to why such a policy change is heading for city hall;

        "...it’s widely rumored that Rider [veteran officer under investigation] is accused of having sexual intercourse with a married woman, age 56, while on duty. The Chronicle is unable to confirm the veracity of rumors that Rider was propositioned by the woman and that several days later her husband learned of the encounter and was displeased."

        To me the narrative now looks like; "Officer got caught cucking a citizen while on the job and several citizens are now pushing for this to be an acceptable part of a cop's working day."

        I sincerely hope I'm wrong.

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Discord

Introducing the new Techdirt Insider Chat, now hosted on Discord. If you are an Insider with a membership that includes the chat feature and have not yet been invited to join us on Discord, please reach out here.

Loading...
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.