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 After years of doing nothing (and after years of the NYPD never bothering to invoke the law), the state repealed "50a," the statute that allowed the NYPD to withhold misconduct records from the public.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

  1. 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.

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)

Follow Techdirt

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

The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...

Recent Stories

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

Email This

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