Police Reform

I-Team: NYPD Disciplinary Records Still Under Wraps, Despite Recent Reform Bills

In one case, the NYPD estimated it would take more than four months to share disciplinary histories of about 100 officers named in excessive force lawsuits

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Nearly two weeks after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill requiring police departments to make disciplinary records public, the NYPD is delaying production of the documents — citing the need to redact them.

In one case, the NYPD estimated it would take more than four months to share disciplinary histories of about 100 police officers who were named in excessive force lawsuits against the department.

After the I-Team filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request seeking those officers' disciplinary records, the NYPD responded with an email saying "You can expect a response on or about Thursday, October 29, 2020."

The response went on to say the COVID-19 pandemic could cause “extensive delays, lasting up to one year, in determining your request.”

Sen. Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx), who sponsored the bill making police disciplinary records public, said a four-month delay is not the kind of transparency his bill ensures.

“Absolutely not. That was not the intent of the legislation,” Bailey said.

The text of the legislation, which was signed by the governor on June 12, says “This act shall take effect immediately.”

But Sgt. Mary Frances O’Donnell, a spokesperson for the NYPD, said it takes time to work through requests for records because officers’ private address and health information must be blacked out. 

“The Department is committed to transparency and long advocates for reforms to 50-a,” O’Donnell wrote in an email to the I-Team. “The records being requested are now being collected and will undergo mandatory redactions, as required by the Freedom of Information Law.  The Department is making every effort to do this as quickly as possible.”

Eliminating the law, known as Section 50-a, would make complaints against officers, as well as transcripts and final dispositions of disciplinary proceedings, public for the first time in decades. NBC New York's Myles Miller reports.

Critics of the NYPD say the department has a long history of blocking or “slow-walking” public records requests.  

Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, cited her efforts to obtain a database with records of thousands of police stop-and-frisk interactions.

"When we would ask the police department they would delay, delay, delay,” Lieberman said. "We have every reason to expect the NYPD will do everything it can to sabotage transparency."

Back when Mayor Bill de Blasio served as Public Advocate, his office gave the NYPD an “F” grade for is failures to comply with the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

De Blasio has pledged to make a public database of NYPD disciplinary records available online, though he’s provided few details or a hard timeline for that proposal.

When asked if it was appropriate for the NYPD to delay production of police disciplinary records until nearly Halloween, de Blasio said his office would look into it.

"I don't understand why you got that response.  We'll follow up on that,” de Blasio said.  “It doesn't make sense to me.  Because we want all this information out."

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