ALBANY — A judge has ordered a public pension fund to reveal the names of most retired New York City police officers receiving pensions, according to a decision that a government watchdog group called a huge win for taxpayers.
State Supreme Court Justice Melissa A. Crane in Manhattan ruled the names of police pensioners should be released to the fiscally conservative Empire Center for Public Policy. The group sued after the New York City Police Pension Fund refused to provide the names under written requests through the state Freedom of Information Law.
The Empire Center, represented by the nonprofit Government Justice Center, won the right to publicly release the names of pensioners except for undercover police officers. The Empire Center already publishes the names and pension benefits of retirees receiving pensions from the funds serving teachers, firefighters, police statewide and other state and local public employees. The data are available on the Empire Center’s website, seethroughny.net.
“Concerned taxpayers have played a critical role in identifying pension abuse,” the judge wrote in her decision dated Monday. “Public employees do not enjoy the same privacy rights as private-sector employees. Disclosure of police officer names would lead to a higher level of accountability and would also discourage occurrences of pension ‘double-dipping.’”
The decision is “a ringing reaffirmation of our right to know how taxpayer money is being spent,” said Timothy Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center.
The Empire Center has found, without names attached to the pension accounts, that the number of NYPD retirees receiving six-figure pensions more than doubled to 1,419 between 2009 and 2014. Two retirees had pensions of more than $300,000 a year and a dozen were entitled to pensions of $200,000 a year each. One unidentified officer who retired in 2010 is eligible to receive $474,511 annually.
The police pension fund didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it will seek an appeal.
The police fund had argued release of the names would endanger the lives and homes of retired police officers.
But the judge, citing a precedent in a previous case, said the fund “fails to show an uptick in incidents threatening the life or safety of retired police officers related to the disclosure. An agency needs to demonstrate a possibility of endangerment to invoke the life or safety exception … assertions are not enough."
The victory wasn’t complete for the Empire Center. The decision releases the names of most retired police officers receiving pensions in 2017, the date sought by the Empire Center in its contested request for public records. A previous FOIL request by the Empire Center had sought names of retired officers receiving pensions from 2008 to 2014.
“The rationale for public disclosure clearly should apply to the entire police pension database, except for retired undercover officers whose names are appropriately redacted,” said Cam Macdonald of the independent Government Justice Center.
The judge said the Empire Center’s FOIL requests in 2014 were “time barred,” stating that the center didn’t take action within the statute of limitations on that request.