by Matt Agorist, The Free Thought Project:
Until last month, New York state prohibited the release of police officers’ disciplinary records. Civilians’ complaints of abuse by officers were a secret. So were investigators’ conclusions. The public couldn’t even know if an officer was punished.
The New York City police officer whose use of a prohibited chokehold led to the death of Eric Garner in 2014 had a record of misconduct. Garner’s last words — “I can’t breathe” — became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.
When the death of George Floyd and footage of his pleas for his life ignited worldwide protests, activists in New York renewed their push to repeal the statute that kept disciplinary records under wraps, known as 50-a. State lawmakers finally acted, voting to repeal the provision, which had been on the books for decades.
Soon after, ProPublica asked New York’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, or CCRB, for a list of officers, along with the complaints against them, and what discipline, if any, had been recommended.
Today, we are making this information public and, with it, providing an unprecedented picture of civilians’ complaints of abuse by NYPD officers as well as the limits of the current system that is supposed to hold officers accountable. We’ve published a database that lets you search the police complaints so you can see the information for yourself. Data experts can also download the data.
The database lists active-duty officers who’ve had at least one allegation against them substantiated by the CCRB: That’s about 4,000 officers out of the NYPD’s 36,000-member force.
Unions for city police officers, firefighters and corrections officers have sued New York City to stop the disclosure of most of these and other disciplinary records. The unions objected to the release of any cases other than “proven and final disciplinary matters.” That would exclude the vast majority of complaints against officers.
“We are defending privacy, integrity and the unsullied reputations of thousands of hard-working public safety employees,” a union spokesman said on the filing of the lawsuit.
On Wednesday, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order, blocking the city, including the CCRB, from releasing disciplinary records. Judge Katherine Polk Failla also barred the New York Civil Liberties Union from disclosing data it had obtained. ProPublica has not been a party to the case and is not subject to the order by Failla, who has scheduled a hearing for next month.
In releasing the information included in our database, ProPublica is not publishing all complaints against officers. As we’ve noted, we’ve limited the data to only those officers who’ve had at least one substantiated allegation. And every complaint in the database was fully investigated by the CCRB, which means, among other steps, a civilian provided a sworn statement to investigators. We’ve also excluded any allegations that investigators concluded were unfounded, meaning investigators determined the incident did not happen as the complainant alleged. There were about 3,200 allegations listed as unfounded in the data we were provided, about 9% of the total.