WNYC: More Defenders Get Access to 'Bad Cops' Database

This past week, our Cop Accountability Project spoke with WNYC about their NYPD officer database and new partnership with other organizations to share select information on officers’ misconduct.

More Defenders Get Access to 'Bad Cops' Database
by Robert Lewis
Nov 9, 2017

The city's Legal Aid Society is going to start giving access to a so-called “bad-cop database” — dirt on more than 10,000 NYPD officers — to other public defender organizations.

The announcement comes just after the state’s top judge announced a new rule requiring trial court judges to ensure prosecutors turn over evidence that might be favorable to a defendant at least 30 days before trial.

It was a long-awaited step toward reform. Defense attorneys have complained for years that their clients are pressured into taking plea deals before having a chance to see the exculpatory evidence and impeachment material that prosecutors might have.

But defense attorneys say even the 30-day requirement in the new rule is not enough.

“A lot of people have to make crucial decisions about whether they're going to plead or go to trial way before that 30 days,” said Cynthia Conti-Cook, an attorney with Legal Aid’s Special Litigation Unit.

State law makes police disciplinary records confidential without a court order. Even though prosecutors have a constitutional obligation to disclose material that could help the defense, there's no real requirement they go looking for such evidence that might kill a case. As a result, many defendants never had a chance to learn about the misconduct history of police officers involved in their case — records that could sway jurors.

So Legal Aid launched the database in 2015, which it formally calls the Cop Accountability Project.

Paralegal Julie Ciccolini has been adding records ever since, including information from lawsuits, news reports, Internal Affairs and Civilian Complaint Review Board filings that are sometimes revealed in court, and even offensive social media posts that might call into question an officer’s truthfulness.

The database also tracks when judges deem an officer’s testimony not credible. The database has information on more than 160 officers with a formal credibility ruling against them, including nearly 80 a judge deemed incredible in the last three years.

Conti-Cook said it helps at every phase of a case from bail applications, to negotiating better plea deals, to cross-examining cops on the stand. And it helps defendants decide if they want to take a plea.

“This database gives them access to investigative materials that allow them to make a more balanced decision about the risks they face at trial," Conti-Cook said.

Now, 10 other organizations including the Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, Federal Defenders and the Innocence Project will have access to much of the information. Some appellate attorneys will also have access.

“The database provides a wealth of information about police misconduct which had previously been difficult to obtain. We anticipate being able to use this information to assist our clients in challenging the legitimacy of their convictions where serious police misconduct is uncovered,” said Claudia Trupp, senior supervising attorney at the Center for Appellate Litigation, according to a press release announcing the partnership.

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.

This article originally appeared on WNYC.org.