This week the City of New York gave up its fight to keep more than 1,000 records a secret. Fight they did, for several years the city has claimed that their records concerning police shootings were exempt from the Freedom of Information Law and that they didn’t have to disclose them to anyone. This decision means that the NYPD will now hand over more than 1,400 reports on over 1,000 shootings to the New York Liberties Union.
The city had previously filed an appeal against the latest decision regarding the case, where Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Emily Goodman ruled the NYPD’s records were not exempt from disclosure. That ruling took place on February 14th, and the city had been working on its appeal since– until this week.
Most police actions require the keeping of reports and records. When the police shoot someone, this is especially true and there are often additional internal investigatory reports as well. Civil liberty organizations like the ACLU had tried repeatedly to gain access to such reports over the years, to no avail.
Another similar case, where the ACLU sought information on the race of the shooting victims had the same result, with Justice Joan A. Madden ruling the city didn’t have “adequate justification for not producing information as to the race of persons” shot at by police.
The NYPD is known for their secretive nature. If they can keep something from the press and the public, they will. And they thought, for years, that they could withhold information on police who took their power of law enforcement to the greatest extreme.
The NYPD “has a terrible record when it comes to openness,” said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director for the NYCLU. “We keep having to sue the department under FOIL (Freedom of Information Law), and the courts rightly keep ruling that it cannot withhold important documents from public view.”
So will this ruling change anything? Because the department has been ordered by the court to reveal these specific reports, they will likely comply. But if a case arises where they are asked to disclose something that hasn’t gone before the court, they’ll likely fight it tooth and nail, as they did this time.
As a member of the public it can often feel like the police are a force that stand against us rather than stand to serve us. Though not true for every individual officer, the few who take their power to the extreme, make a bad name for the entire unit.