Police Unions Lose Bid To Block Release of Huge Trove of NYPD Misconduct Records

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A coalition of New York City police, firefighter, and prison guard unions have lost their bid to block the city’s planned release of a huge trove of police misconduct records. The ruling clears the way, at least for the moment, for New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) to post officers’ complaint histories, and for the New York Police Department to release separate disciplinary records it holds.

All those records had been confidential for the past 40 years under Section 50-a, a notorious police secrecy law. But the New York legislature repealed the law in June—a stinging defeat for police unions, who are still bitterly fighting to claw back what records they can. Today U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla declined to grant a preliminary injunction against releasing unsubstantiated misconduct allegations.

“Whoa!” an unidentified person on an unmuted line shouted during the telephonic court hearing, as Failla announced she was almost totally rejecting the police unions’ request.

Last month, Failla temporarily blocked New York City from disclosing the records while she weighed the unions’ arguments that the release of unsubstantiated complaints would lead to retaliation against police officers and harm their reputations and future employment prospects.

But before the unions filed their lawsuit, the review board released misconduct records to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and ProPublica, the latter of which published its own database of more than 4,000 complaints. A court initially blocked the NYCLU from releasing its records, but yesterday the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals lifted that stay as well.

The NYCLU immediately published a database of more than 320,000 complaints filed against the city’s police officers since 1985. The New York Times reports that only 3 percent of those complaints were substantiated.

Today Failla ruled that the unions had failed to demonstrate the release would cause concrete harms or risks for officers.

“Plaintiffs have presented speculation only that these disclosures will increase risk of officer harm,” Failla said, noting that such records are public in a dozen other states.

Failla did, however, grant a narrow injunction blocking the city from releasing records on certain low-level disciplinary offenses that can be expunged under the officers’ collective bargaining agreement.

CCRB Chair Fred Davie said in a press release today that this outcome “is not only legally justified, but is the only logical path forward for preserving what New Yorkers and lawmakers intended through the repeal of 50-a. I applaud today’s decision—the fight for transparency has been delayed, but not deterred.”

The unions have until Monday afternoon to appeal Failla’s ruling to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.