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Legal Aid Appeals Court Decision to Keep NYPD Disciplinary Records Secret

By Ben Fractenberg | October 6, 2017 1:35pm
 Legal Aid filed an appeal Friday to gain access to NYPD officer disciplinary records.
Legal Aid filed an appeal Friday to gain access to NYPD officer disciplinary records.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

MIDTOWN — One of the city’s top public defender organizations filed an appeal Friday against a court decision to seal NYPD personnel records that include disciplinary actions against officers that had previously been public.

Legal Aid is appealing a May judgment by New York Supreme Court judge Joan Lobis allows the NYPD to keep the personnel orders that had been made public for decades — including officer transfers, promotions, retirements and disciplinary judgments — exempt from Freedom of Information Law requests.

“For over 40 years, these summaries were disclosed to the public with zero hesitation. The City’s reversal in favor of secrecy by manipulating an outmoded law counters any relationship the NYPD is trying to build with the blocks it polices,” said Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society.

“So long as acts of police brutality continue to proliferate in black and brown neighborhoods, proof that the NYPD’s accountability system responds remains critical if we’re going to have true transparency and accountability,” Luongo said.

Lobis wrote in her May 24 ruling that officer disciplinary records being made public “carries the potential for exploitation.”

The city had also argued that state civil rights law 50-a says officer personnel records used to evaluate performance should be kept confidential. 

Legal Aid also filed an appeal against a separate state appellate court ruling allowing the Civilian Complaint Review Board to keep private complaints made against the NYPD who put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold.

“In the present case, was Officer [Daniel] Pantaleo’s showing of a risk of abuse substantial enough to justify non-disclosure of the requested records?” Legal Aid wrote in the appeal filed Friday.

“These issues are of substantial public importance, particularly in view of the controversy currently embroiling the Nation with respect to excessive force in policing, its disproportionate impact on persons of color, and the adequacy of police control and discipline,” they added.

In a statement, Jonathan Darche, the CCRB's Executive Director, said, "The Agency has and continues to call for reforms to 50-a to improve transparency in officer discipline. Transparency around officer discipline is key to fostering public trust in police accountability and improving police-community relations.”

The NYPD did not immediately return a request for comment.