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NY police departments gird for a demand in police records

A Suffolk County police car is shown in

A Suffolk County police car is shown in this 2012 file photo taken in Bay Shore. Credit: James Carbone

Daily Point

How will Nassau and Suffolk PDs respond to increased FOIL requests?

The repeal of 50-a passed the State Senate and Assembly on Tuesday, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office says he plans to sign it this week. So when do the previously blocked findings of law enforcement misconduct start trickling out? 

The effective date written into the legislation is “immediately,” and that means that beyond some redaction requirements from the new law, the pre-existing provisions of the Freedom of Information Law “will apply to records that previously were subject to the protections in Section 50-a,” according to Kristin O’Neill, assistant director of the Committee on Open Government, the state’s FOIL-guidance shop.

What that suggests is that once Cuomo signs the legislation, police departments will no longer have the shield of 50-a to prevent disclosure of disciplinary records via FOIL. 

Expect New York reporters and advocacy organizations to begin filing FOIL requests as quickly as they can. But then begins the long slog of waiting and fighting for disclosure. 

The Point asked the Suffolk and Nassau county police departments what they expect with the 50-a repeal and what their staffing levels are to respond to FOIL requests now.

A Suffolk police spokesperson said in a statement that the department “is in the process of reviewing its FOIL processes relating to 50a to ensure that any and all requests can be handled appropriately and expeditiously as possible.”

NCPD Commissioner Patrick Ryder said in a statement: “Although I am not in favor of any modifications to 50a which could jeopardize the Safety of officers, the Police department will follow the law and adjust accordingly.”  

Some agencies have limited resources to handle FOIL requests. The Civilian Complaint Review Board in New York City has just two staff members in the agency’s FOIL office. 

There are dozens of police departments in the downstate region, from small to large, and many have a slow and obstinate track record on the regular FOIL front. Take the NYPD: In 2013, then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio gave the NYPD an “F” in his FOIL report card for city agencies, while noting the very high number of requests the agency gets (a continuing issue:  the NYPD says its FOIL unit processed more than 23,000 requests in 2019). But over a three-month period in 2011, the NYPD had the largest number of unanswered FOIL requests: 31 percent, according to the report card. 

A Village Voice report in 2017 found similar NYPD recalcitrance. 

Cue the hold music.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Talking Point

After a difficult birth, Cuomo welcomes new LaGuardia terminal

New Yorkers haven’t seen the exhilarated Andy the Builder in a while.

For months, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s news conferences have been relatively subdued, as he’s dealt with COVID-19, made difficult decisions, and released troubling statistics about life and death. 

But Wednesday, Cuomo was at LaGuardia Airport, for the opening of the new arrivals and departures hall at Terminal B, which he called “breathtaking.” 

Cuomo compared the reality of the new hall to having a child. After all the talk, scans, and preparation, Cuomo said, “It’s indescribable when it actually happens.”

The new hall, which came in on time and on budget, gave Cuomo a chance to talk about other development efforts, from the ongoing construction of a New York Islanders’ arena at Belmont Park to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s capital projects. Cuomo suggested that the state reopening presents a chance to accelerate ongoing work, and to start new work, too.

“Now is the time when you want to see government investing [and] the private sector investing in building large-scale developments that you know can help drive economic growth,” Cuomo said. “You actually have an opportunity.” 

That was music to the ears of builders across Long Island, and to Long Island Builders Institute chief executive Mitch Pally, who told The Point Wednesday that he saw Cuomo’s comments as a chance to do big things on Long Island, too.

But Pally noted that on Long Island, it’s about more than the dollars. 

“I’ve got more money in private investment sitting on the sidelines because we can’t get the [local] approvals,” Pally said, adding that an encouraging push and support from the state – and particularly from the invigorated Cuomo – could help.

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Pencil Point

What goes around...

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Final Point

Drinking water standards decision pushed to July due to COVID-19

The much-anticipated but oft-delayed setting of drinking water standards for new contaminants was pushed back again when the Department of Health last week postponed another meeting of the Public Health and Health Planning Council. The blame, as with many things nowadays, is being put on the coronavirus.

An April meeting was postponed as the health department dealt with the virus 24/7. Even though the department has begun to transition back to normal operations, it had no time before last week’s meeting to finish wading through the 2,000 comments it received regarding the proposed standards.

The next chance to set maximum levels for such contaminants as PFOA, PFOS and 1,4-dioxane is the July 30 meeting, now that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued an executive order extending the deadline for a decision until Aug. 7.

The biggest issue is whether to help water districts pay for treatment of the chemicals and, if so, to what degree. An activated granulated carbon system to treat PFOS and PFOA costs $750,000 to $1 million, while a 1,4-dioxane treatment system can cost up to $4 million. But now  state funding is scarce given the high cost of battling COVID-19.

“They wanted time to see if the financial challenges could be resolved and if the federal government is going to be contributing anything to New York State,” Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito told The Point. Esposito was among environmentalists on a conference call with health department officials last week.

No one disagrees that standards must be set. How to pay for them, and whether that entails waivers or phase-ins or something else for the water districts that must implement the standards, is another story.

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie

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