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NYPD can keep misconduct bulletins secret, judge rules

A Manhattan judge has ruled that the NYPD is allowed to keep secret its bulletins that detail how individual cops are disciplined for misconduct.

In a decision issued May 24 but released this week, Justice Joan B. Lobis of state Supreme Court rejected arguments in the suit by Justine Luongo, attorney in chief of the Legal Aid Society, who wanted Lobis to force the NYPD to bring back its decadeslong practice of publishing internal bulletins listing basic details of substantiated misconduct and resulting discipline.

Critics of the NYPD’s new policy on the bulletins, like the Legal Aid Society, say the records about cops who commit misconduct shouldn’t be kept secret, so the public and defense lawyers can hold the department accountable. Such records and more are available in many other states.

Lobis said that she is constrained by a higher court precedent regarding New York’s Section 50-a of the civil rights code — one of nation’s strictest police secrecy laws.

Lobis said in a similar records-seeking lawsuit, the First Department, referring to the appellate court with jurisdiction over Manhattan, had rejected the society’s argument that the NYPD waived nondisclosure under 50-a because it had made the information available in the past.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration says it is bound by the 50-a law, even though the mayor says he disagrees with it.

Disclosure of the bulletins, known as orders, had been routine since the 1970s, most recently on a clipboard in the NYPD’s 13th floor press office. The NYPD ceased the practice last year, following a formal request for access to the orders by the Legal Aid Society under state open-records laws.

The bulletins at issue also report promotions, changes in duty, retirements and other personnel orders involving the department’s 36,000-officer force.

During arguments in the case in March, Lobis seemed inclined to rule for the society, saying, “it just boggles me” why the NYPD stopped disclosing the information.

The Legal Aid Society, reflecting on its second recent loss in an attempt to find out how cops are or aren’t punished for misconduct, said in a statement that it was “disappointed” by the ruling and is considering an appeal.

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