New York, NY – An appeals court ruled Tuesday that the discipline records of New York Police Department (NYPD) officers and other first responders should be made public, upholding a lower court’s decision.
The legal battle began after New York repealed a law that shielded first responders’ records from being released in the wake of the death of George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020, ProPublica reported.
The labor unions that represent police officers, firefighters, and corrections officers in New York City filed a lawsuit to stop the records from being released.
Union attorneys argued that the full disciplinary records contained countless unsubstantiated or dismissed complaints that would compromise officers’ reputations and safety, WNBC reported.
They said that first responders could have trouble finding other jobs if records of unproven complaints were made readily available.
But while the case was being considered by the court, ProPublica published thousands of officers’ disciplinary records.
New York District Judge Katherine Polk Failla ruled that the records should be released.
“Are you asking to put that particular genie back in the bottle?” Failla asked union attorneys, according to ProPublica.
The New York Civil Liberties Union published thousands more disciplinary records before the first responders’ labor unions filed their appeal.
On Feb. 16, a panel of three judges on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan upheld the lower court’s ruling, WNBC reported.
“We have considered the Unions’ remaining arguments and conclude that they are without merit,” the judges wrote.
One of the judges on the panel noted that it was too late to stop the records’ release, according to ProPublica.
“The cat is not only out of the bag, it’s running around the streets,” the judge said.
The city hasn’t said when they will release the rest of the records but the mayor has promised to publish an online database of police misconduct complaints, WNBC reported.
“Good riddance to 50-A,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “We look forward to releasing this data and will seek clarity from the court regarding when these records can be released.”
The unions maintained that the release of the records violated collective bargaining agreements and put their members’ safety at risk, Politico reported.
“Today’s ruling does not end our fight to protect our members’ safety and due process rights. The FOIL law provides exemptions that allow public employers to protect employees’ safety and privacy,” Hank Sheinkopf, a spokesman for the unions, said. “We will continue to fight to ensure that New York City applies those exemptions to our members fairly and consistently, as they do for other public employees.”
The unions have not said whether they planned to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, Politico reported.
“A lot of this is just stupidity,” a veteran NYPD officer told The Police Tribune. “It’s feel-good things. So these records are no longer secret. Who cares? A lot of them didn’t mean anything anyway. You could always have those records unsealed with a court order for a serious case.”
“All this did was make it easier for people. Now your neighbor can come up to you and say “oh, I see you got a command discipline for being off-post,’” he continued.
“And the general public will find out just how many complaints are filed – and investigated – over unkind words,” the officer told The Police Tribune.
He said the Citizen Complaint Review Board (CCRB) has been “implicitly if not explicitly” against the police since the panel was created.
“The CCRB used to advertise that even if you didn’t follow through with your complaint, or it wasn’t substantiated, it would still stay on the officer’s record forever,” the officer told The Police Tribune.
“If a complaint is unsubstantiated, why put it out in the public arena?” he asked.