Details of more than 323,000 New York City Police Department misconduct cases handled by the Civilian Complaint Review Board over three decades were released to the public Thursday after a federal appeals court lifted an order that had kept the materials from being disclosed.
The New York Civil Liberties Union released extensive information about the files, including the names of more than 81,000 officers, decisions about complaints against them and the kind of discipline they received, as the result of a state Freedom of Information Law it filed with the CCRB.
The disclosure was hailed by police reform advocates and civil libertarians as a landmark moment for transparency.
“History has shown the NYPD is unwilling to police itself,” said Christopher Dunn, legal director of the NYCLU in a statement. “The release of this database is an important step towards greater transparency and accountability and is just the beginning of unraveling the monopoly the NYPD holds on public information and officer discipline.”
An NYPD spokesman, Al Baker, said in a written statement: "For years, the New York City Police Department has worked to refine its internal disciplinary system. Last year, an independent outside panel of former prosecutors and judges reviewed the system and found it to be fair and effective. It also made recommendations for further improvements, which the NYPD accepted and largely implemented by mid-2020."
In an order published Thursday, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals lifted its stay, which prevented release of the materials after police, fire and other public service unions had filed suit to prevent the disclosure.
The unions had argued that release of information about unsubstantiated misconduct complaints was an unwarranted invasion of privacy and could subject their members to reprisals or difficulties finding employment.
As soon as the appeals court lifted the stay, the NYLCU released its database of the CCRB materials on a special website link: www.nyclu.org/nypdrecords.
The CCRB is an independent agency that investigates complaints of police misconduct involving civilians such as offensive language, use of force and abuse of authority. It split off from the NYPD in 1994 and some of the files available go back to 1985.
Access to information about police misconduct complaints had been stymied over the years by section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law, which stopped disclosure of police personnel file information. But with repeal of that law in June, the CCRB could now release such material under a FOIL.
“Following the recent repeal of Civil Rights Law Section 50-a, advocates, members of the press, elected officials, and others, lawfully requested information from our Agency,” Fred Davie, chair of the CCRB said in a statement. “In the spirit of transparency and in service to New Yorkers, the CCRB promptly honored these requests."
The unions, such as the Police Benevolent Association, promised more legal action against the city.
“We continue to fight the [Mayor Bill d]e Blasio administration and the improper dumping of thousands of documents, containing unproven, career damaging, unsubstantiated allegations that put our members and their families at risk," said Hank Sheinkopf, spokesman for the coalition of unions that fought to keep the files under wraps.
The entries in the NYCLU database contain information about the complaints against the officers, the dates of occurrence, the subject of the conduct complaint and findings about whether the matters were substantiated, unsubstantiated, unfounded, or led to an exoneration of the cops involved. Penalties ranged from minor command discipline to fewer than a dozen cases of termination, the most recent being that of Officer Daniel Pantaleo who was found guilty after a 2019 department trial of the apparent chokehold death of Eric Garner in 2014.
A detailed statistical breakdown of the charges, dispositions and penalties wasn’t available Thursday. But a review of CCRB files since 2006 showed that in any year the number of substantiated complaints ranged from 4% to 14% while unsubstantiated matters — which couldn’t be proved or disproved — went a high as 49%. Cases in which officers were exonerated ranged from 23% to 40% of cases a year, the data showed.